Protesting Israel’s Gaza operation, Egypt withdraws ambassador from Tel Aviv

Atef Salem arrived less than a month ago, telling President Peres he came to work for ‘mutual trust and transparency’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Ambassador Atef Salem submits his letter of credence to President Shimon Peres in October 2012. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Ambassador Atef Salem submits his letter of credence to President Shimon Peres in October 2012. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

Egypt has announced its intention to recall its ambassador in Tel Aviv in protest of Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip.

President Mohammed Morsi also invited Israel’s ambassador in Cairo, Yaakov Amitai, for consultation and handed him a letter protesting “Israel’s aggression” in the Gaza Strip, several Israeli media outlets reported Wednesday night. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor could not immediately confirm the reports.

On Wednesday afternoon, after several days of incessant rocket fire on Israel’s south, the IDF launched Operation Pillar of Defense, which included the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari and airstrikes on terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.

According to Ehud Yaari of Channel 2, Morsi — a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an affiliate — also said he would complain to the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League about the Israeli operation.

Israel’s own ambassador to Egypt, Yaakov Amitai, was called back to Israel earlier on Wednesday for fear of violent protests at the embassy in Cairo. The rest of the Embassy staff is also being quietly evacuated on Thursday, Ynet news reported.

Egypt’s new ambassador to Israel, Atef Salem, took office less than a month ago.

“I came with the message of peace and I came to confirm that we are really working for mutual trust and transparency,” he told President Shimon Peres at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem after handing him his letter of credence on October 17. “We are committed to all the agreements we signed with Israel and we’re also committed to the peace treaty with Israel.”

Salem’s letter, which was signed by Morsi, addresses Peres as a “Great and good friend,” and spoke of the signatory “being desirous of maintaining and strengthening the cordial relations which so happily exist between our two countries.” Although the letter largely followed standard diplomatic language for the exchange of ambassadors, the cordial tone caused outrage in Egypt, after The Times of Israel exclusively published a copy of the letter.

There had not been an Egyptian ambassador in Israel since August 2011, when Cairo recalled Yasser Reda from Tel Aviv to protest the deaths of five Egyptian servicemen who were killed during a terrorist infiltration from the Sinai in which eight Israelis died.

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