Israel's closed embassies in Cairo and Amman
Op-ed: With Israeli missions in both Egypt and Jordan evacuated, Jerusalem's ties with its two neighbors is only becoming more estranged. And as the peace agreements we fought and bled for are being forfeited, people of all three nations are caught in the middle.
A new complication has arisen recently: Let us assume for a moment that an Egyptian citizen, a businessman, an adventurer whose financial situation allows him, or a patient in urgent need of medical care, insists on traveling to Israel.
This courageous person would have to take on the unpleasant confrontation at the Interior Ministry in Cairo, when he seeks a special travel permit (only) to Israel, and they try to talk him out of it.
The same brave person would also have to deal with the venomous criticism of his friends, family and colleagues when they learn he is traveling to the "Zionist entity."
After clearing all the hurdles, this daring person would now have to face the bureaucratic barrier: For nine months now, the Israeli embassy in Cairo has been closed. In the absence of diplomats, there is no one to issue entry visas. What would our intrepid hero do?
Until last month, he would have had to fly to Jordan (an expense of a few hundred dollars), fill out forms, submit them, return home and wait. If his visa request was approved, he would've had to fly back to Jordan (a few hundred dollars more), get a stamp on his passport and continue to Ben-Gurion Airport. If not, the hardships he endured, which cost him almost a thousand dollars, were all in vain.
Here is another problem. After the hasty departure of the Israeli diplomats from Amman, dozens—perhaps hundreds—of passports remained stuck at the embassy. But no official complaints were made, because who is brave enough to reveal he planned to visit the "enemy state"?
In recent days, with the return of Israeli diplomats to Jordan appears increasingly unlikely, the owners of the stuck passports are working on getting new passports.
No one can tell them, neither on the Israeli side nor on the Jordanian side, when the embassy offices are going to reopen their doors and who will staff them. Meanwhile, there are whispers recommending the replacement of the entire staff at the Israeli embassy.
What is certain is that Ziv Moyal—the security guard who shot dead two Jordanians at the embassy complex after one attacked him—is not going back. The family of Dr. Hamarneh, the orthopedist who owned the apartment where the shooting incident took place, refuses to accept a condolence delegation and an apology from Israel.
True, there isn't exactly a flood of tourists or an onslaught of visitors from the two countries with whom we have signed peace agreements. But there is a constant trickle of those coming quietly, under the radar. Dozens of patients, businessmen who still plan to expand their export and import routes, and even dreamers whose feet are not firmly planted on the ground of reality. Those with the right connections in Jordan and Egypt are taken care of and get special entry visas, while the others are sent to Turkey or other European capitals to enter Israel through there.
In the opposite direction, Israelis can turn to the Egyptian consulate in Tel Aviv. Some will receive visas, other will get excuses. And, despite the quarrel, it is still possible to purchase a one-time entry visa to Jordan at the border terminals and at the airport in Amman.
All this clearly shows we have lost two diplomatic missions that had been gained with considerable effort.
One can argue all the day long about the real strength of the Israeli presence in these countries, the extent of its influence, and the level of accessibility Israeli diplomats have to government offices. One can also argue about what is more important, security coordination and strategic cooperation, or having an Israeli flag displayed in the ambassador's office under a photo of President Reuven Rivlin.
What is clear is that this situation, of a virtual embassy, is convenient for Egypt and Jordan. Things in general are also calmer. No one will organize demonstrations to expel the Israeli diplomats and cancel the peace agreements. Also, no one will urge us to reopen, because it's easier to manage without an embassy clearly bearing Israeli symbols.
But we must not give up and we must not neglect our diplomatic ties with Jordan and Egypt. We must send an emissary to the intelligence headquarters in Cairo to resolve the security issue that led to the closure of the embassy.
The situation in Jordan is a bit more complicated: King Abdullah has tied the reopening of the embassy to receiving the report from the Israeli investigation into the shooting incident and seeing the security guard brought to justice. We should also not forget that to this day, we have not heard a convincing Israeli version of what happened inside the apartment, which resulted in the death of the 17-year-old stabber and the doctor who was caught in the middle.