Ilan Grapel affair

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Ilan Grapel with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu after his release on October 27, 2011

The Ilan Grapel affair was an alleged Israeli espionage incident in Egypt involving dual U.S.-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel. On 12 June 2011, Egyptian authorities arrested Grapel on charges of fomenting unrest in Egypt as a Mossad agent in the wake of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. While Israel and Grapel's friends and family firmly rejected the charges, the Egyptian government never provided evidence to support its claim and the arrest was widely ridiculed in Egypt itself.

On October 25, 2011, Israel and Egypt agreed on the release of Grapel in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The exchange was executed on October 27, 2011, bringing an end to Grapel's nearly five months of imprisonment on dubious charges.


Arrest and charges[edit]

Ilan Grapel, a 27-year-old man born in Queens with dual American and Israeli nationality, was arrested on 12 June 2011 by Egyptian authorities, who claimed that Grapel was sent to Egypt by Mossad to build a team that had been trying to gather information and data and to monitor the events of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. The authorities also claimed that Grapel tried to incite violence amongst Egyptian protesters with the goal of sparking a face-off with the military and spread chaos in the Egypt.[1]

Friends and family of Grapel as well as the Israeli government adamantly rejected the espionage charges against Grapel and denied he had any connections to the Mossad. At the time of his arrest, Grapel was a rising third-year student at the Emory University School of Law. Grapel's friends and family said he went to Egypt for the summer to intern at Saint Andrew's Refugee Services, a non-government legal group that helps resettles refugees.[2] Grapel had a longtime interest in Islam and the Middle East. He is trilingual, speaking English, Hebrew and Arabic.[3]

The Egyptian government never gave evidence to support its claims against Grapel, and even in Egypt, the arrest was widely ridiculed.[4]

In early October 2011, with reports increasingly indicating that Grapel would be released shortly, a senior Egyptian official admitted that Grapel was not a spy according to the London-based newspaper al-Hayat. The source stated, "what Grapel did during the revolution did not amount to spying and by this logic he can be released in exchange for financial benefits."[5]

Biography[edit]

Ilan Grapel is a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, originally from Queens, New York. In 2005, Grapel graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland with a bachelor's degree in international studies. He then moved to Israel and performed compulsory military service in Israel. During his service he was wounded in the 2006 Lebanon War. Grapel later returned to U.S. for law school, enrolling in Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. His mother, Irene, said her son "always wanted to do good for the world" and went to Egypt to perform legal aid as part of this commitment. She added, "Ilan is a young man who wanted to see all sides of every issue."[6]

In the summer of 2002, Grapel interned in the Queens office of Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman, who has lobbied for his release.[7]

Prisoner exchange deal[edit]

Following the successful execution of the first phase of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange on October 18, 2011 with the support of Egyptian mediators, Israel and Egypt came to an agreement on the release of Grapel in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners. On October 25, 2011, Israel's Security Cabinet unanimously approved the prisoner swap, clearing the way for Grapel to be released to Israel on October 27. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the U.S. for helping achieving the Grapel deal.[4] The Israeli government stated that none of the Egyptian prisoners to be released are "security prisoners."[8]

On October 27, 2011, Egyptian authorities released Grapel and he arrived in Israel on a private jet. The same day, Israel sent the 25 Egyptian prisoners into Egypt through the Taba Border Crossing.[9]

Implications[edit]

The arrest of Grapel sparked fears in Israel that relations with Egypt would sour after the fall of long-time Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak.[10]

Yaroslav Trofimov of The Wall Street Journal asserted that the arrest of Grapel and other Westerners in the aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian revolution was part of a "military-inspired xenophobia campaign" to distance Egypt's new military rulers from the West, "portraying pro-democracy activists as spies and saboteurs, blaming the country's economic crisis and sectarian strife on foreign infiltrators, and blasting the U.S. for funding agents of change." He wrote, "As a result, connections with the U.S. and other Western countries have turned toxic just as the largest Arab country is struggling with a rocky transition to democracy." The detention of Grapel served to aggravate U.S.-Egyptian relations.[11]

Boaz Ganor, founder and executive director of Israel's International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), said that it has always been dangerous for Israeli citizens to visit Arab countries but it is unlikely for Arab states to adopt the arrest of Israelis as a tactic to extort Israel. Ganor stated that "the Grapel affair was designed to satisfy the Egyptian masses, and was a stage-managed incident meant to use 'the traditional rival – Israel – to distract Egyptians from their real problems.'" Ely Karmon, a senior researcher at ICT added that Egypt "has a record of arresting innocent Israelis such as Azzam Azzam and Ouda Tarabin and framing them as spies to prove to its anti-Israel public it is looking after state security."[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Egypt Accuses American of Spying for Israel". newser.com. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  2. ^ "Emory Law School Student Arrested on Accusations of Spying". The Emory Wheel. 19 June 2011. Retrieved 25 October 2011. 
  3. ^ "Ga. student accused of spying has no regrets". The Seattle Times. Associated Press. 13 June 2011. Retrieved 25 October 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Israel approves swap deal for jailed US-Israeli". The Guardian. Associated Press. 25 October 2011. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  5. ^ "Egyptian official reportedly admits 'Grapel no spy'". YnetNews. 2 October 2011. Retrieved 26 October 2011. 
  6. ^ "Israel: Egypt to Free Jailed Queens Man". NBC New York. 25 October 2011. Retrieved 25 October 2011. 
  7. ^ "Egypt to free Queens kid". New York Post. 25 October 2011. Retrieved 25 October 2011. 
  8. ^ "Decision to release Ilan Grapel". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 25 October 2011. Retrieved 27 October 2011. 
  9. ^ "Netanyahu meets Grapel: 'It's good that you're home'". The Jerusalem Post. 27 October 2011. Retrieved 27 October 2011. 
  10. ^ "Egypt spy allegations against Israeli denied by family, classmates". Boston Globe. Associated Press. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  11. ^ Yaroslav Trofimov (10 August 2011). "Egypt's Rulers Stoke Xenophobia". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 25 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Oren Kessler (26 October 2011). "'Ilan Grapel incident is unlikely to become a trend'". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 25 October 2011. 

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