Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon, Israel’s ambassador to Egypt from 2009 to 2011, recalled on Tuesday the downfall of the Mubarak regime and rued the illusion of a good relationship between the countries that, he said, was based on lies.
Speaking to the Hadassah Centennial Convention at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem, Levanon, a 40-year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service, who adopted the name of his native country Lebanon, remembered the days before the Tahrir uprising that would bring down president Hosni Mubarak.
“When I came to Egypt we had excellent relations at the top level with Mubarak and all of his assistants. I had lunch with Mubarak six times and all the other diplomats envied me.
“But the situation was not real,” Levanon said. “Mubarak never visited Israel and he allowed his country to boycott Israel. When I wanted to organize a conference, it was impossible for me to rent a hall.”
Levanon voiced understanding for the young people who started the uprising, demanding civil rights and freedom of expression. When protests broke out, recalled Levanon, the regime suppressed them with a heavy hand and Levanon and his staff went underground. On September 9, 2011 a mob attacked the Israeli embassy, breaking down its perimeter wall with hammers. Only after 13 hours and a personal call by US President Barack Obama to Egyptian General Mohamed Tantawi, who was the de facto head of state at the time, were the Israelis evacuated by the skin of their teeth.
“Those were the worst hours of my life,” Levanon lamented. “The Egyptian police and security did nothing. They could have stopped the attack but they permitted it. I am personally grateful to the US ambassador who called Washington and thereby saved us.”
On the following morning, the Israelis were airlifted home on the same plane that brought the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat on his historic peacemaking mission to Israel in 1979.
“Today, one year later, we have no embassy in Cairo and an ambassador who does his work for two days a week and the rest of the time is in Israel. We have no bilateral relations. There is some talk in Egypt of canceling the peace agreement. I say ‘go ahead.’”
Levanon called on the US to take a more assertive and firmer position towards the new Egyptian regime, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.