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February 21, 2019 4:51 am

A Window of Opportunity in Egypt

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avatar by Itzhak Levanon /


Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not pictured) at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, October 30, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke.

JNS.orgAfter eight years, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s director-general decided to keep Israeli embassy staff in Egypt over the weekend instead of returning them home. This was a welcome decision; the staff’s permanent presence in Cairo allows it to develop and maintain continuous diplomatic work, as expected of any embassy.

The attack on the embassy by an enraged mob in late 2011 — and the staff’s consequent hasty withdrawal — left Israel without a building for its embassy. Instead, a very minimal team was put in place, and diplomats returned home to Israel every weekend. As a result, Israel’s diplomatic mission in Egypt took a hit. This unacceptable reality has persisted for eight years. And although the Foreign Ministry’s decision is a step in the right direction, the embassy will still only function on a semi-normal basis.

The current Egyptian regime, headed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, doesn’t hide its good relations with Israel, and is fostering a positive atmosphere. This provides a window of opportunity to implement full-fledged, proper diplomatic relations. The Egyptian parliament’s decision to extend al-Sisi’s term in office for many more years opens the window even further.

To restore diplomatic relations to pre-2011 normalcy, Israel must quickly find a new building for its embassy and staff, including a consular services department working to encourage mutual tourism and promote Israeli interests in Egypt — precisely as the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv does. The staff has to be the same size as before, to pursue and strengthen the countries’ diplomatic ties.

In the stormy Middle East, close relations between Israel and Egypt are vitally important.

The Foreign Ministry, to be sure, always has to contend with complex challenges across the globe, but Israel’s relations with Egypt need to be prioritized.

We must not miss this window of opportunity or squander the current regional climate to reestablish the Israeli presence in Cairo as it was before 2011. The Israeli-Egypt peace accord includes agreement on fully operational embassies. With al-Sisi firmly in power for a long time to come, we must move forward with determination to bring this to fruition.

Itzhak Levanon is the former Israeli ambassador to Egypt.

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