Cairo attack fuels global alarm over Israel

An embassy stormed and a desperate weekend of diplomatic pressure have turned the spotlight on Israel and the imminent threats it faces to its increasingly precarious future.

The scream of fighter jets at 4.40am this Saturday morning cut through the Cairo dawn. Panicked by the mob tearing down its embassy wall with bare hands, ripping its flag to shreds and storming the last door that protected six of its diplomats, Israel launched an emergency operation.

The Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu had spent the night bunkered with his crisis team, desperately calling on allies such as his most powerful international 'friend' Barack Obama, to force the Egyptian leadership to act.

Now 86 Israelis were being hustled towards the rescue planes and Egyptian commandos were swooping in to rescue the remaining six. Three protestors lay dead in hospital. A further 1,093 were injured.

Today Israel is in shock and urgently reviewing its options in the face of a 'diplomatic tsunami' of threats.

First, the eruption of anger in Cairo after Israeli troops killed three Egyptian soldiers in a botched terrorist skirmish last week exposes the sudden fragility of its southern border. At 83 million, Egypt's population is over ten times that of Israel. And now after 30 years of peace, post-revolutionary Egypt is looking hostile.

Second, there is a collapse of relations with the new Islamic-inspired government of Turkey. Last week Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador after getting no full apology for the death of nine Turks in a raid on a Turkish ship. Today the Turkish prime minister is in Egypt. A new anti-Israeli alliance is on the cards.

Third, the 'world's policeman', the United Nations general assembly of 193 countries, is to consider a bid this month backed by Egypt and Turkey to recognise a Palestinian state. If this goes to a vote it looks likely to succeed, despite the ferocious opposition of Israel and the USA.

Fourth, the revolutionary leaders behind the recent 'Arab Spring' have started to attack not just the leadership in their own countries, but Israel's too, accusing them of unjustly occupying Palestinian land.

Finally, Israel is experiencing a 'spring' of its own. Protestors of every shade of political and religious opinion are taking to the streets to attack their government's failure to tackle poverty, lack of housing and unemployment.


In the face of a mounting crisis, Israelis themselves are split. Some are calling for a 'porcupine policy' in which Israel concentrates on putting up defences and clamping down on unrest until the threat recedes.

But the former defence minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer speaks for others when he says: 'The world is angry at us because we are viewed as conquerors, ruling over another people. I would recognize a Palestinian state. We would then negotiate borders and security. Instead nothing is happening. We are left with one ally, America, and that relationship is strained, too.'

You Decide

  1. If a relative of yours was killed in a war, would you ever be able to forgive (i) the country that killed them and (ii) other people you might meet later in life who came from that country?
  2. Do you think the Israel\Palestine debate will ever be solved?


  1. Imagine you had to design a new country. Draw a map of how you would like it to be, remembering to include rivers, cities, mountains and everything that makes a country pleasant to live in.
  2. Write the outline for a PR campaign that Israel should run in order to get more worldwide understanding for its point of view.

Some People Say...

“Israel is its own worst enemy.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is it all about Palestine?
No. But that remains the main single reason for hostility to Israel. If that problem were sorted, Israel would have a much smoother ride.
Why doesn't Israel agree to a Palestinian state?
In a word: security. One in five Israelis has lost a relative to a Palestinian attack whether a suicide bombing, a missile or other form of violence. Many Palestinians have been killed by Israel too. But the fear on Israel's side is that for many Palestinians the total destruction of Israel is their ultimate aim.

Word Watch

Binyamin Netanyahu
A veteran politician, born in 1949, 'Bibi' Netanyahu is leader of the right-wing Likud Party and has been prime minister of Israel since March 2009.
Turkish ship
This ship, the Mavi Marmara, was part of a flotilla which attempted to deliver supplies to the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip in contravention of a naval blockade of the area. An attempt to board the ship by Israeli special forces turned violent after the troops were attacked. Several Turkish citizens were killed.
Palestinian State
The Palestinians live in the so-called 'Occupied Territories' of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, formerly parts of the British Mandate of Palestine. Palestinians have never had an independent state of their own, but hope to gain legal recognition for such a state at the coming UN vote.


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