New Fears of Egypt-israel Chill in Wake of a Dropped Rape Case

Unsubstantiated allegations that Egypt’s ambassador to Israel raped an Israeli belly dancer may further damage already-chilly relations with Cairo, Israeli leaders fear.

The charges, which had been kept out of the Israeli media for several weeks by court order, were published last week, when Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein announced his decision to close the investigation for lack of evidence against Mohammed Basiouny.

The attorney general also ordered the police to end their inquiries into a cross-complaint filed by Basiouny, who charged that the belly dancer and a male friend had sought to blackmail him.

Basiouny, visibly upset by the publicity, said over the weekend that he was glad that “the truth is out at last” — and insisted that he would continue at his post.

But some Israeli observers predict that since his standing has been irreparably damaged, his 15-year term as Egypt’s ambassador to Israel is likely to come to an end soon.

While the dancer’s allegations have not been substantiated, it is clear that Basiouny met with her alone in the apartment of a mutual friend.

Basiouny claims he merely wanted to give her a birthday present, that they had known each other for several years, that she frequently performed at his residence and that there was no sexual element to their relationship.

The dancer, whose name was banned from publication by court order, is reportedly married and the mother of two.

According to Israeli media reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Ezer Weizman were involved in behind-the-scenes efforts to keep the story out of newspapers and to prevent it from hurting Israel’s already-tense relations with Egypt.

They also feared that the charges against Basiouny would damage chances of obtaining the release of Azam Azam, an Israeli Druse who was found guilty of spying for Israel while working in Egypt.

Azam was sentenced Aug. 31 by a Cairo court to 15 years in prison with hard labor.

Israeli leaders apparently fear that the Egyptian press, and even the country’s government, may see the Basiouny affair as Israel’s way of getting even with Egypt or of pressuring Egypt on the Azam case.

Despite protests from Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai that Azam was not a spy, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has refused to pardon him.

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