By YAAKOV KATZ
Ilan Grapel might not be the most responsible person by traveling to post-revolution Egypt and raising suspicions with inquisitive questions and visits to various tense locations – but that does not automatically make him a spy for the Mossad.
His Facebook page makes this quite clear.
Besides having writing in Hebrew, it has pictures from his service in the IDF Paratroopers Brigade, including a graphic photo of a hole in his shoulder from the Hezbollah bullet that hit him during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
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The questions are, then: Why would Egypt decide to turn the American-Israeli Emory University law student into a spy? What could the current Egyptian government gain?
The concern in Israel is that Grapel’s arrest is indicative of the negative trend that has taken control of Cairo and has led to a deterioration in ties with Israel, but also a warming in ties between Egypt and Iran, as well as with Hamas – as demonstrated by the recent decision to open the Rafah Crossing and host senior Hamas officials in Cairo.
The understanding in Israel is that the current Egyptian government is trying to blame Israel for the ongoing instability in the country and the violence that left demonstrators dead and injured. The articles that appeared on the front pages of Egypt’s newspapers made this clear.
The government in Egypt is also threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered a strong political opponent in the elections that are scheduled to be held by the end of the year.
By arresting an Israeli “spy,” the government is showing that it, too, is distancing itself from Israel and aligning itself with the more radical Islamic elements.
This is likely the same reason that it has warmed-up its ties with Iran, allowing its warships to cross recently through the Suez Canal for the first time since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
This does not mean Egypt will immediately annul the peace treaty with Israel – which was beneficial for Cairo in establishing ties with the Unites States – but in the long-term, Israel needs to be concerned.
The more immediate problem is how to get Grapel released.
The problem is that Egypt’s security and intelligence agencies have concocted such a story that it will be difficult to justify his sudden release. If he is released quickly, the Egyptian public will legitimately question the arrest altogether, and it will put the intelligence services – already hated due to their history under Hosni Mubarak – under even greater suspicion.
Other cases have included Azzam Azzam and Ouda Tarabin, a Bedouin who has been sitting in an Egyptian jail for over a decade.
The “Israel card” is commonly used throughout the Arab world as a way to shift blame and attention away from domestic troubles.
The instability in Egypt? Not the new government’s fault. It is Israel. The violent and bloody crackdown in Syria? Not the work of the ruthless Bashar Assad. It is all Israel.
Without knowing, Ilan Grapel walked right into the middle of it all.
He is an innocent tourist, but the question of how he will be released is not a simple one. In the meantime, Grapel’s luck is that he entered Egypt using his US passport, and that the State Department, and not the Israeli Foreign Ministry, is leading efforts to secure his release.