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PM says he threatened raid on besieged Cairo embassy in 2011

Former Foreign Ministry officials dismiss claims that imminent rescue operation pushed Egypt to evacuate staff from angry mob

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Foreign Ministry ceremony for Israel's Memorial Day, May 10, 2016. (Chaim Tzach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Foreign Ministry ceremony for Israel's Memorial Day, May 10, 2016. (Chaim Tzach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that amid the 2011 popular uprising in Egypt, he threatened to send troops to Cairo to evacuate staff besieged by demonstrators inside the Israeli embassy. He later clarified that any rescue operation would have been coordinated with Cairo.

Speaking at a Foreign Ministry ceremony ahead of Israel’s Memorial Day for soldiers and victims of terror, Netanyahu said the move was intended to pressure Egypt into sending its own security forces to rescue the trapped Israelis.

“Here, a few years ago, in the Foreign Ministry situation room, we faced an ever-tightening siege on our people in the Israeli embassy in Cairo,” Netanyahu, who is acting foreign minister, told diplomats and ministry staff.

On September 9, 2011, several thousand protesters forcibly entered the Israeli embassy in Giza, Cairo, after breaking down a perimeter wall to the compound. The protests began in response to the inadvertent killing of five Egyptian security guards by IDF soldiers during an attempt to catch terrorists who had ambushed and killed eight Israelis along the Israel-Egypt border.

Egyptian protesters demolish a concrete wall protecting the Israeli embassy in Cairo, September 9, 2011 (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)
Egyptian protesters demolish a concrete wall protecting the Israeli embassy in Cairo, September 9, 2011. ( AP/Amr Nabil)

“A wild mob came to slaughter our people, and that evening we used all the tools at our disposal, including threatening an Israeli military rescue operation that was ultimately the deciding factor and brought in the Egyptian forces, then under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Netanyahu said Tuesday. “Through meticulous coordination from here, we brought about an end to the situation.”

Casting doubt on the claims, former Foreign Ministry officials who were involved in the evacuation said that they did not remember any talk of an Israeli rescue operation.

The Prime Minister’s Office clarified later Tuesday that in 2011, Israel planned a “coordinated, and not unilateral” operation to retrieve its staff from the Cairo embassy, rather than threatening a raid.

“We thank the Egyptian military and are happy that it dealt with the crisis responsibly and solved the problem,” a PMO statement said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu very much appreciates the relations with Egypt and the upholding of the peace agreement which is an important element in the region’s stability.”

The demonstrators managed to enter the offices of the embassy where six members of the remaining staff had locked themselves in a safe room. Netanyahu said that he spoke with the embassy’s chief security officer while he was trapped in the reinforced room.

“He told me, ‘My name is Yoni,'” Netanyahu said. The prime pinister said he responded, “Yoni, the State of Israel will get you out of there.”

Barack Obama, left, speaking with Benjamin Netanyahu outside the White House on May 20, 2011. (Pete Souza/White House)
Barack Obama, left, speaking with Benjamin Netanyahu outside the White House on May 20, 2011. (Pete Souza/White House)

Netanyahu did not mention the involvement of the Obama administration in the eventual rescue operation by Egyptian security forces. The US president had called on the Egyptian government to “honor its obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli embassy,” according to a White House statement at the time.

Following the intervention from the White House, Egypt sent commando forces into the embassy complex to rescue the Israeli staff.

Immediately after the incident, Netanyahu told press, “I’m glad we managed to prevent a disaster and would like to thank the US President Barack Obama for his help.”

Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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