Ever since the Egyptian uprising toppled President Hosni Mubarak, there have been several indications that the relationship between Egypt and Israel--which has remained relatively cordial since the two countries signed a peace treaty in 1979--is fraying. In April, Egyptian negotiators helped broker a reconciliation deal in Cairo between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. A month later, Egypt's military rulers reopened the country's Rafah border crossing with Gaza. Then, this month, Egypt belatedly resumed exporting natural gas to Israel. In the latest development, Egyptian authorities announced on Sunday that they arrested a suspected Israeli spy, later identifying the man as the 27-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel.
According to news reports, Grapel, a third-year law student at Emory University, immigrated to Israel from Queens in 2005, at age 22, and was wounded while serving as a paratrooper during the Lebanon War in 2006. As U.S. diplomats in Cairo work with Grapel, his family in New York, and Egyptian authorities to settle the matter, here are the other claims various groups are making about Grapel's identity:
- Egyptian Authorities: Egypt's state-run MENA news agency claims Grapel gathered intelligence about Egypt's January 25 revolution for the Israeli spy agency Mossad. An Egyptian judiciary official quoted by Reuters states that after Mubarak stepped down, Grapel frequented Cairo's Tahrir Square to incite sectarian tensions between Christians and Muslism and encourage young people to clash with the military, sometimes by paying them off. Egypt's Ahram Online, citing official investigations, suggests Grapel's mission occurred during the revolution, not after, and adds that Grapel was captured "with a laptop and three cell phones containing top-secret information that could be politically harmful for Egypt in the wrong hands."
- Egyptian Media: Several Egyptian news outlets are running with the official version of events (the semi-official Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, for example, identifies Grapel as a "Mossad officer who tried to sabotage the Egyptian revolution"). They're also posting Facebook photos of Grapel in Tahrir Square (see above) and in his Israeli military uniform. But others are more skeptical. Al Masry Al Youm, for example, notes that "Grapel was posting openly on his Facebook page about his presence and activities in Egypt--hardly the remit of a super spy." Analyst Mohamed al-Gawady tells the paper that Israel would be unlikely to send Grapel on such a mission since "an exposé like this could severely harm the relationship between the two countries" at a precarious post-revolution moment. Egyptian blogger Hossam al-Hamalawy claims the arrest is a "cheap move" by Egyptian intelligence to paint "any public criticism against the military" as the "work of Israeli spies."
- Israeli and American Officials: Israeli authorities say Grapel's case is being handled by the U.S. and not Israel because he entered Egypt with an American passport. State Department spokesman Mark Toner says the department's function right now is to "provide him with consular services [and] work with local authorities to make sure he's being treated fairly under local law," not comment on the merits of the case.
- Grapel's Family and Friends: Grapel's parents, Irene and Daniel, say their son is no spy. Instead, they explain, he arrived in Cairo in May--not February, when the Egyptian uprising occurred--for a summer internship with Saint Andrew's Refugee Services, a non-governmental organization. In an interview with Haaretz, a friend who identified himself as Shmuel dismissed the notion that Grapel was a spy and stated that "Ilan was always concerned with human rights, was for the establishment of a Palestinian state and was learning about Arab culture." A classmate at Emory tells the AP, "I don't think a Mossad agent would post things on Facebook, travel under his own name and get a grant from law school to travel. This is a big misunderstanding." In fact, Grapel's mother thinks it was her son's Facebook pictures and Israeli military service that prompted his detention, according to ABC News. A Facebook page has been created to demand Grapel's release.