by Xinhua Writer Li Laifang
CAIRO, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) -- The relations between Egypt and Israel have encountered a new crisis after Egyptian protestors stormed the building which houses the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Friday night, forcing Israeli ambassador Yitzhak Levanon back home temporarily.
While the latest incident will no doubt have certain impact on bilateral relations, reactions from both sides indicate they would not let their bilateral ties deteriorate.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday evening Israel is working with the Egyptian government in order to return its ambassador to Cairo as soon as possible under improved security arrangements.
Egypt has vowed to punish those who incited and participated in the violence targeting the Israeli embassy, protect foreign missions and take necessary measures to deal with the current situation in the country.
There has been mounting anti-Israel sentiment in the Egyptian society since mass protests overthrew long-ruling Mubarak regime in February, which kept ties with Israel in accordance with the 1979 peace treaty. Some activists even called for cutting ties with the Jewish state.
The deaths of five Egyptian soldiers in an attack on Aug. 18 by Israeli forces who were chasing militants at the border area, served to add fuel to this kind of morale.
However, Egypt did not withdraw its ambassador from Israel, although hundreds of people protested at the Israeli embassy in Cairo for several consecutive days, demanding the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador.
Israel has stressed the strategic importance of maintaining the peace treaty with Egypt, the most populous Arab nation. Egypt's current military rulers also said the country will adhere to all international treaties it has signed, which include the peace treaty with Israel.
Egypt is the first Arab country to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. To maintain stable relations is crucial for mutual interests of the two countries.
First, Egypt has for years been a major mediator in the Israeli- Palestinian peace talks. As a moderate and key regional player, Egypt plays an almost irreplaceable role in this aspect. The Cairo- based Arab League, whose chief is an Egyptian, has also spared no efforts in pushing forward the peace process.
Second, Israel and Egypt are two key allies of the United States in the Middle East. For the sake of its strategic interests in the region, the U.S. does not want to see strained relations between Israel and Egypt.
Third, the security situation in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula is important to Israel as the two countries share stretches of borders. Militants have carried out five attacks on pipelines transporting gas to Israel in North Sinai since February, disrupting normal supplies. Terrorists in Israel's southern area also conducted a series of attacks last month. Therefore, cooperation is needed to guarantee the security in the border areas.
Egypt is a key supplier of natural gas to Israel. Both sides expect the cooperation in energy to continue.
Israel now faces a crisis in relations with Turkey, another key regional player, because of Israel's refusal to apologize for its naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 which killed nine Turkish nationals. Israel does not want to make itself further isolated in this region.
Of course, Israel and Egypt face challenges in keeping and developing ties, given the impact of the dramatic changes marked by calls for democracy in the region. Egypt is to present a new face to the world in the post-Mubarak era.
Egypt has exerted more efforts to develop relations with the Arab and African countries in a bid to renew its influence. More independence in diplomacy may feature Middle East countries after the ongoing historic transformations, which have also toppled the old regimes of Tunisia and Libya, according to analysts.
More importantly, Islamist forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups, are gaining prominence in Egypt. They show determination and enthusiasm in political participation. Whether they reach power or not, these groups are expected to have some influence on Egypt's relations with Israel.
There are also calls in Egypt for amending some articles of the peace treaty to allow the deployment of more Egyptian troops in Sinai. The modifications may happen in the future but needs negotiations, analysts say.
As long as anti-Israel sentiment exists in Egypt, it is possible that the relations of Egypt and Israel face uncertainties, especially if the Egyptian government considers more about public opinions in this respect.
But it does no good to either side if the relations deteriorate. To adhere to the peace treaty and keep ties meets the interests of both.
News Analysis: Israeli-Egyptian peace uncertain after embassy breach
JERUSALEM, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- Israeli ambassador to Egypt Yitzhak Levanon, along with some 80 staff members and their families, were evacuated early Saturday as a mob stormed the Israeli embassy in the Egyptian capital of Cairo. Full story
Israel working with Egypt on return of ambassador: PM
JERUSALEM, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) --"I seek to ensure that the security arrangements (the Israeli ambassador) and his staff require will be firm and meet Israel's security needs. For now, our consul for state affairs will continue to represent Israel in Cairo," Netanyahu said in a televised press conference. Full story
Israel to send ambassador back to Cairo soon
JERUSALEM, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) -- Israel is working with the Egyptian government in order to return its ambassador to Cairo as soon as possible under improved security arrangements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a press conference in Jerusalem on Saturday evening. Full story