Head to head: Two views on whether Israel should keep its ambassador in Cairo
Yakir Elkariv and Moshe Ronen
Yakir Elkariv – Yes
What would have happened had it not been for that security door, which saved the lives of the six Israeli guards in our Cairo embassy? What prompts a young Egyptian man to risk his life and climb to the 15th floor of the embassy building just to hurt Israelis? And what is the source of the blind, mad hatred on the Egyptian street for anything related to Israel?
The post-revolution Egypt looks like a nation defined and guided by hatred: Hate for the old order, for America, for Mubarak and his sons, and for Israel. How does one fight such hatred? Is there even a chance to change the average Egyptian’s view on Israel and convince him that the Jewish state is not directly linked to Satan, that the Jews have no intention of poisoning the Nile, and that Jewish women with AIDS are not deliberately sleeping with young Egyptians in Sinai just to make them sick? By the way, the latter is a prevalent rumor these days.
The chance for a change in Egypt’s public opinion is slim. Yet Israel must return its ambassador to Cairo as soon as possible, if only to clearly mark the boundary between the street and the world of diplomacy. Giving up here would constitute capitulation to the darkest urges and a reward to all the haters, on both sides.
The peace treaty with Egypt may be Israel’s greatest foreign policy achievement ever. Israel must do everything in order to maintain it. Any erosion would immediately prompt further budget demands from the defense establishment that would likely be met – this would make life in Israel even harder for most people and kill the social protest.
In fact, keeping our ambassador is an Egyptian interest no less than it is an Israeli one. In returning the Israeli envoy to Cairo, Egypt would signal to the world that it is an orderly state after all with regional interests and long-term plans, rather than a disorderly neighborhood run by hot-headed gang members.
Giving up the Israeli mission may satisfy the street for a week or two. Yet this dubious “achievement” will boost Egyptians’ appetite and the violence would grow and be directed at other foreign missions, led by the United States. And so, Egypt’s isolation would grow and the country would sink into backwardness that is worse than what it experiences now.
Moshe Ronen – No
Diplomatic relations are premised on ceremonial rules and ancient traditions. Ambassadors, consuls, the presentation of one’s credentials and the playing of the anthems. These gestures carry much symbolism, and plenty of practical benefit. The ambassador represents his country in a friendly state, creates ties, reports on the prevailing moods, and conveys messages to and from his government.
Yet when dealing with neighboring countries, on days where communication is undertaken via the Internet and satellites, and when one can travel from one capital to another on a one-hour flight, the envoy’s role has lost much of its significance. Leaders can phone each other. We can send emissaries who leave in the morning, hold meetings in the neighboring country, and return to their state at the end of the workday.
Today, stable ties can be maintained between states without embassies. In many states we have an envoy who is a non-resident; he presented his credentials but does not reside in that state for economic reasons.
This does not mean that Egypt is this kind of state, where we should post a non-resident. Our ties with Egypt are indeed important, yet we must undertake a cost-benefit analysis. If the embassy in Cairo merely serves as a red rag in the face of rioting masses, and its existence merely boosts tensions between the states, what do we gain?
If the Israeli flag is removed time and again and is burned by the incited masses, does it reinforce our national pride? If we are forced to dispatch four security guards for each diplomat sent to Egypt, and at the end of the day fail to ensure these guards’ safety, how does that contribute to peaceful relations between the peoples?
The Cairo embassy symbolizes the peace ties that exist, still, between Israel and its large southern neighbor. Yet woe is the symbol that provokes the masses and constantly appears in the news in contexts that highlight how deeply in trouble this peace is.
There are times when it is better to keep one’s head down until the murky wave passes; we should grant the current rulers in Egypt the possibility to maintain secret ties with us and not be drawn by the masses. Once the situation in Egypt stabilizes, we can again inaugurate the embassy building.
For the time being, we can have an absentee mission. Israel’s ambassador to Egypt can fly in for important meetings and official ceremonies, and return home after that.