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Sunday, September 11, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Netanyahu pulls diplomats from Egypt, cites 'political earthquake of historic proportions'

CAIRO — After more than 30 years, Israel has been forced to withdraw its diplomatic presence from Egypt.


Hundreds of Islamists, identified as anti-regime activists, stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo, smashed a concrete barrier and penetrated the compound as police refused to intervene. About 30 of the attackers climbed the building and ransacked embassy offices, leaving the six embassy guards trapped.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the withdrawal of the entire embassy staff, or 85 people, from Egypt. The Israelis, with the exception of the deputy ambassador, were flown out of Egypt on two Israel Air Force planes on Sept. 10.

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"The Middle East is now undergoing a political earthquake of historic proportions," Netanyahu said in a televised address.

"Egypt witnessed a harsh day that inflicted pain and worry on all Egyptians," Egyptian Information Minister Osama Hassan Heikal said. "It is clear that the behavior of some threatens the Egyptian revolution."

Officials acknowledged that police failed to stop the rioters who for hours hammered away at the concrete barrier erected to protect the Israeli embassy. After direct appeals from the United States, including President Barack Obama, Egyptian commandos were sent to rescue the Israeli security guards — holed up in an embassy room — and at least three of the rioters were killed. The Israelis then left the building in Arab headdress and robes to prevent their identification by the mob outside.

An Egyptian government statement condemned the Islamist attack. The statement was broadcast on Sept. 10 after an emergency session between the military regime and the civilian government, Middle East Newsline reported. At one point, officials said, the entire Cabinet, complaining of a lack of authority, threatened to resign.

The Egyptian commandos were sent after a huge police force was mobilized to remove the protesters. For hours, both sides clashed, with police firing ammunition and tear gas in what the Health Ministry said resulted in three dead and more than 1,000 injured.

The Islamists torched several police vehicles while others tried to storm a nearby security headquarters. Officials said 30 people were arrested.

"Those involved in inciting or participating in the events will be referred to the emergency state security court," Heikal said.

Officials said Netanyahu's appeal to Obama took place after the Israeli prime minister failed to reach Egyptian military leader Hussein Tantawi.

They said Tantawi, also defense minister, refused to take Netanyahu's phone call as the mob broke into the embassy building. At one point, Netanyahu did manage to reach Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Murad Muwafi.

"I asked for his [Obama's] help," Netanyahu recalled. "This was a decisive and fateful moment. He said, 'I will do everything I can.' And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us."

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Sept. 11 that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta tried to reach Tantawi for two hours. When Tantawi finally took the call, Panetta was said to have demanded immediate Egyptian action to rescue the Israeli staffers.

Netanyahu said Israeli ambassador Yitzhak Levanon and his staff left Egypt. The only remaining diplomat was Levanon's deputy, who was formally representing Israel's interests in Egypt.

"We are working together with the Egyptian government to quickly return our ambassador to Cairo," Netanyahu said. "I wish to make sure that the necessary security arrangements for him and for our entire staff will be effective and will assure their necessary safety."

But officials acknowledged that the return of the Israeli diplomats to Cairo could take weeks if not longer. They said the military regime has proven incapable of protecting Israeli interests amid the rise of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to sever relations between Cairo and Jerusalem.

On Sept. 7, the Brotherhood issued its first condemnation of the military regime since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February. The Brotherhood expressed fear that the ruling military council would remain in power indefinitely.

"It has failed to meet the many promises it had given," the Brotherhood said.

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