September 12, 2011 - 12:00am

The storming of Israel's embassy in Cairo is the climax of the public protest in Egypt against Israeli policy, especially against the killing of Egyptian soldiers during Israel's response to the terror attack near Eilat last month. It's natural for the events to raise deep concerns about the future of the peace agreement between the two countries.

But the mob violence - from which most Egyptian protest movements have disassociated themselves - is also directed against the new regime in Egypt, challenging it on its handling of foreign policy in general. Significantly, this regime has adhered to all agreements signed with Israel and has called the embassy break-in an act that "harms Egypt's image and international standing," as Egyptian Information Minister Osama Heikal put it.

Unlike Turkey, which expelled the Israeli ambassador as punishment for the killing of its civilians and Israel's insistence not to apologize, Egypt forwent a similar step after its soldiers were killed. It seems that in the meantime, like other ways Israel has tested its strategic alliance with Egypt, the alliance is perceived as an essential asset that must not be abandoned to a mob.

The first Lebanon war, the second intifada and continued settlement construction led to the recall of the Egyptian ambassador but did no real harm to relations with Israel. Yet it would be a strategic mistake for Israel to ignore the broader context of the storming of the Cairo embassy and treat it as an isolated incident to be resolved by the arrest and prosecution of the rioters.

The rules of the game with Egypt have changed. The policy of winks and tacit agreements of the days of former president Hosni Mubarak is now on trial and cannot survive. Public oversight of the new regime's domestic and foreign policy is greater than it has been in 60 years. For the strategic alliance with Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and other countries to survive, Israel will have to propose real policies and solutions to the conflict with the Palestinians. It must drop the empty slogans about prestige and national pride and recognize the deep change in its status that has begun.


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