World News

Netanyahu says he threatened raid to rescue Israelis from Cairo embassy in 2011

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday backtracked from remarks in which he said he had threatened to send commandos to Cairo in 2011 to rescue Israeli security staff besieged by demonstrators who had stormed Israel’s embassy.

Egyptian army officers arrest a suspected demonstrator attempting to come close to the Israeli embassy at the site of clashes between protesters and riot police in Cairo September 10, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Netanyahu clarified Israel had not intended to mount an operation on its own, but only in coordination with Egyptian authorities.

“The intention was for a coordinated, not a one-sided action. We are pleased that there was no need for this and thank the Egyptian army, which handled the crisis in a responsible manner and brought about a solution to the problem,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

Demonstrators stormed the embassy, in the heart of Cairo, on Sept. 9, 2011, in protest at the killing of five Egyptian security guards by Israeli soldiers pursuing Islamist militants who had ambushed and killed eight Israelis along the border.

According to Netanyahu’s original account earlier on Tuesday at a ceremony in the Foreign Ministry to mark the country’s annual memorial day, his threat galvanized the Egyptians to send in forces and rescue the six.

“A wild mob ... came to slaughter our people, and that evening we used all the tools at our disposal, including a threat of an Israeli military rescue operation - something that ultimately was the deciding factor and brought the Egyptian forces (to the scene),” he said.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said the ministry “had no knowledge of any internal Israeli discussion of such kind at the time”.

He added that Egypt’s government “bears the responsibility of providing protection to any foreign diplomatic mission on Egyptian soil according to its international obligations ... and continues to do so”.

Netanyahu made no specific reference in his original comments about U.S. intervention in helping resolve the crisis and his telephone call at the time with President Barack Obama, and the involvement of other top U.S. officials.

In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to recognise Israel. Bilateral relations have endured political upheavals that saw the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, followed by the current pro-Western administration of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Lin Noueihed in Cairo; Editing by Alison Williams