Temple Mount: Anatomy of 
an escalation

After a week of grandstanding by Israeli ministers the metal detectors, justified or not, are no longer there

July 27, 2017 16:51

In the end, the crises in Jerusalem and Amman were resolved — at least for now — very simply.

Shin Bet Chief Nadav Argaman flew to Amman on Monday afternoon and sat in as Jordanian officers questioned the Israeli guard who had shot and killed two locals during a terror attack — or altercation over shoddy service, versions differ — on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah spoke on the phone and agreed that the staff of the embassy, including the guard, could leave by convoy for the Israeli border.

And then there was the matter of the metal detectors.

Following Mr Netanyahu’s conversation with the King, the cabinet gathered in Jerusalem and, within a few hours, accepted the unanimous recommendation of the security establishment that the detectors, erected a week earlier at the entrances to Temple Mount, should go.

Mr Netanyahu announced that the detectors would be replaced with a “smart inspection” system, to be installed some time in the next six months at a cost of NIS 100 million.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian religious council that oversees Temple Mount, the Wakf, opposed the replacement security measures and encouraged Palestinians to continue the rioting that followed the installation of the metal detectors. But no major riot followed, and the wave of violence subsided.

The attack on July 24 by three Israeli-Arab citizens outside Al Aqsa Mosque, killing two Israeli police officers, set in motion a rapid escalation, which included a brutal murder of three Israelis during their Shabbat meal in the West Bank settlement of Halamish and the deaths of four Palestinian rioters in Jerusalem.

The shock waves reached Istanbul, where Turkish Islamists besieged Neve Shalom Synagogue. The decision of a 17-year-old Jordanian carpenter to attack an Israeli embassy guard with a screwdriver may have been part of the same ripple of rage. There is, of course, a valid argument to be made that the escalation was sparked and stoked by Palestinians, and that the move to install metal detectors was simply a rational security measure.

The fact remains, however, that after a week of grandstanding by Israeli ministers the metal detectors, justified or not, are no longer there and we are back to square one.

Immediately after the killing of the two police officers, Israel closed the Haram al-Sharif compound on Temple Mount for 48 hours. That was an unprecedented decision, but despite Palestinian protests, it passed without any major reaction.

The Palestinians would not admit it, but they understood that a shooting of police officer outside the mosque was not just another attack.

The decision taken by Mr Netanyahu to put up the metal detectors was taken on the recommendation of the police but without consulting the Shin Bet or the IDF’s intelligence branch, both of which predicted it would lead to rioting.

A prime minister of Mr Netanyahu’s experience, who saw in the past how the smallest — and seemingly most innocuous — Israeli changes to “the status quo” on Temple Mount can lead to massive outbreaks of violence should have known it would erupt in the way it did and at the least have held a serious consultation before taking such a decision. It would not have been difficult to predict that the detectors would have to be removed within days.

But the usually risk-averse Mr Netanyahu is operating under pressure from his own right-wing supporters — both within the government and increasingly on social media — to show just how he tough he can be towards the Arabs.

In the cabinet meeting last Thursday, which ended with a decision to keep the detectors in place, two ministers voted against, in line with the Shin Bet and IDF recommendation. One was Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, probably Mr Netanyahu’s closest political ally in cabinet. The other was Housing Minister Yoav Galant, a former general whose opinion the Prime Minister respects so much that six years ago he tried to appoint him IDF chief of staff.

It’s rare for him to vote against these ministers. But Mr Netanyahu went along with Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman because he feels he cannot allow himself to be seen as less hawkish than them. Especially while he is facing corruption investigations and will need the right-wing’s support to remain in office if he is indicted.


July 27, 2017 16:51

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