Egypt's unreasonable outburst over soldiers' deaths

Sunday, August 21, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

Amidst the chaos of trying to hunt down a terrorist cell that infiltrated southern Israel and killed 8 people, Israeli soldiers may have inadvertently shot and killed a number of Egyptian soldiers.

Pretending as though the above description is all that matters, Cairo exploded in rage against Israel, demanding a full formal apology, compensation for the families of the deceased, and threatening to recall the Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv.

But, of course, the opening paragraph is not the full story.

The terrorists that Israeli forces were chasing had infiltrated from the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula, and were trying to return there following their assault on Israeli civilians. So, naturally, much of the fighting was taking place along the Israel-Egypt border.

That Egyptian soldiers may have been caught in the crossfire is regrettable, but not unsurprising.

And that brings up another point. Many Israeli officials are calling for Egypt itself to be more contrite, considering that the terrorists used Egyptian territory to launch their brutal attacks.

In fact, there are reports that at least one of the attacks included mortar shells being fired from Egyptian territory at Israeli motorists.

Consider that had an armed group launched an attack from Israeli territory on a neighboring state, Israel would surely be blamed.

But this is the Middle East, and reason plays no role in what passes for "diplomacy" in this region.

Instead of weighing the situation and the circumstances, the Egyptian cabinet decided - even in the absence of hard evidence - that Israel was at fault and must prostrate itself in shame.

Fully aware that Israeli soldiers caught up in the heat of battle could have accidentally shot at Egyptian soldiers, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he "regrets the deaths of Egyptian officers," but stopped short of saying that Israel was responsible.

Cairo was having none of it.

The Egyptian cabinet rejected Barak's statement and insisted that the Israeli's effort to calm the waters "does not fit with the weight of the incident and the state of Egyptians' outrage from the [alleged] Israeli actions."

The Egyptian public took its cue and beseiged the Israeli embassy in Cairo. On Sunday, that mob managed to break into the compound and raise the Egyptian flag over the Israeli mission.

Ever since the ouster of former dictator Hosni Mubarak in February of this year, there has been concern in Israel that the new powers rising in Egypt are looking for any excuse to cancel the Israel-Egypt peace treaty and return their nation to a state of open hostility with the Jewish state.

Cairo's reaction to the weekend of violence in southern Israel would appear to justify those concerns.

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