Israel’s new ambassador to Egypt, Haim Koren, on Sunday presented his credentials to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at his palace in Cairo, allowing Koren to officially contact Egyptian government officials in his capacity as Israel’s diplomatic representative.
Koren, whose appointment was approved by the cabinet in December, has been stationed in Egypt since May 11. He stayed in Cairo during most of the 50 days of fighting during this summer’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. According to international diplomatic protocol, an ambassador is legally restricted from reaching out to government officials before handing a letter of credence to the host country’s head of state.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem declined to comment on what Koren and Sissi discussed during their encounter.
In light of Koren’s friendly reception in Sissi’s presidential palace, Israeli diplomatic officials said they hoped Cairo would now follow suit and return its ambassador to Israel. Egypt recalled its envoy to Tel Aviv, Atef Salem, in late 2012 in the wake of Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, mere weeks after he had presented his credentials to the Israeli president, and never sent him back.
Fluent in Arabic, Koren is the former director of the Cairo embassy’s political planning division.
The Israeli embassy in Cairo was ransacked by an angry mob in September 2011. It has not been reopened since but some embassy staff returned to Cairo in 2012 and began working from an unofficial location. In the unrest that followed the ouster of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, Israel reduced the number of its diplomatic staff posted to Cairo, but has begun building up its presence in the city more recently in light of the relative calm.
On March 12, a homemade bomb exploded near the former embassy building.
Official relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have been relatively warm since Sissi took power on June 8. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-president Shimon Peres congratulated him after his election victory, hailing the importance of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
During Operation Protective Edge, Sissi and Netanyahu reportedly maintained close ties, speaking frequently and at length about ways to end the hostilities. Jerusalem is said to have been very pleased with the role Egypt has been playing in the efforts to reach a ceasefire, given the Sissi government’s animosity to Hamas.