The murderous attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Tuesday night, and attempts to attack other US embassies in the Arab world, including in Egypt, took former Israeli ambassador to Egypt Yitzhak Levanon back one year, when an Egyptian mob stormed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, removing the flag from the building and ransacking the offices.
Levanon was not inside the embassy during the attack on September 9, 2011, he tells The Times of Israel at the sidelines of the World Summit on Counter-terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. Following the mob assault, the entire embassy staff was evacuated to Israel aboard a military plane. The embassy was permanently shut, and no alternative embassy building has yet been opened.
“One year is long enough to wait,” says Levanon, who began his stint in Cairo in 2009 after serving as head of Israel’s delegation to the UN in Geneva and to Boston. He notes that Israel has proposed a number of alternative offices in Cairo, but the Egyptians are stalling in reopening the embassy. Israel must now pressure Egypt into implementing the peace accords, signed over three decades ago, he says.
According to the former ambassador, the Camp David peace accords, signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979, have gradually eroded over the years: first, by deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak (with whom Levanon met six times), and now even further by President Mohammed Morsi. Levanon asserts the only time “normalization” existed between Israel and Egypt was during the days of president Anwar Sadat, prior to his assassination in October 1981.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is simply not interested in normalization,” continues Levanon. “Israel will need to get used to that new reality.”
Levanon claims that, today, aside from the very bare minimum of diplomatic relations, the peace accords between Israel and Egypt are “empty.” Cultural exchanges stipulated in the peace accords have all but vanished, he says, and Egyptian visitors to the Israeli Embassy or the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo are questioned by the intelligence services.
Relations between Israel and Egypt plummeted following the revolution during the interim rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), headed by Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi. Levanon says that the army generals refused to meet with any Israeli officials.
“With Mubarak, at least, we always had an open door. Now, we don’t.”