JERUSALEM, Sept 10 (Dan Williams/Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described on Saturday how he watched TV images of crowds storming Israel's embassy in Cairo as he reassured its guards by phone and sought U.S. help in mobilizing an Egyptian rescue.
The crisis in one of the few Arab countries to have made peace with the Jewish state presented a split picture of the embattled leader -- promoting his security-first policies but underscoring his dependence on often testy ties with Washington.
As hundreds of Egyptian demonstrators broke into the embassy compound on Friday night, Netanyahu said he monitored events from the Foreign Ministry situation room in Jerusalem and spoke with the head of the besieged mission's six-man security detail.
One door separated them from the rioters ... He said, 'If something happens to me, I would ask that you inform my parents face-to-face and not by phone,' Netanyahu told reporters in remarks broadcast live on television and radio.
And I got on the line and said, 'Yonatan, hold strong, I promise you that the State of Israel will do everything in its power ... so you and your friends get out safely and return home.'
Egyptian troops moved in to rescue Israel's diplomatic staff, including Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon from his official residence, after what Netanyahu aides described as difficult communications with Cairo's interim military rulers.
After failing to reach Egyptian army council leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, one aide said, Netanyahu asked U.S. President Barack Obama to intercede.
I would say it was a decisive moment -- fateful, I would even say, said Netanyahu, whose relationship with Obama has long been soured by the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
MEASURES AND INFLUENCE
He said, 'I will do all that I can.' He did that. He applied all of the means and influence of the United States of America, which are certainly substantial, Netanyahu said without elaborating. And I think we owe him special thanks.
The White House said in a statement it had taken steps to end the crisis without further violence and that Obama had called on Egypt to honor its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli embassy.
In overnight clashes in which three people were killed and 1,049 injured, Egyptian forces retook the mission. A Netanyahu aide said the embassy guards were whisked away to the airport in Arab disguises provided by their rescuers. Cairo authorities pledged on Saturday to prosecute violent protest ring-leaders.
Egypt secured billions in U.S. aid dollars after recognizing Israel in 1979 but the pact was never embraced by its citizens. Many have been incensed by the plight of the Palestinians and, last month, the killing of five Egyptian border personnel during an Israeli pursuit of armed infiltrators.
The fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a U.S. ally, to a popular uprising in February deepened Israel's regional worries. But Netanyahu, whose office earlier put out a statement cautioning Cairo over the embassy debacle, sounded more conciliatory.
We are working together with the Egyptian government to return our ambassador to Cairo soon. I would like to ensure that the security arrangements necessary for him and for our staff will be steadfast, he said.
Levanon's deputy remained in Cairo to manage the embassy.
A showdown looms at the United Nations this month over the Palestinians' claim on sovereignty in all of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Netanyahu has refused to freeze Jewish settlement-building despite the Obama administration's urging.
The Israeli leader sought to draw sympathy given the political upheaval in Egypt and other Arab countries, as well his government's deepening row with former ally Turkey.
When they see the situation unfolding in the region, many, many people will, I believe, understand far better our just insistence on defending Israel's security needs in any future accord, he said. (Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Edmund Blair in Cairo; Editing by Matthew Jones and Andrew Heavens)