There is no more horrifying predicament for Israel, and conceivably the whole Middle East, than a significant strike on the Temple Mount, which to Muslims is the Haram al-Sharif, site of Al-Aqsa Mosque. Such a predicament has been keeping Israeli defense officials alert at night since the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel took control of the eastern part of Jerusalem. At 7 a.m. July 14, it seemed as if that very situation might unfold.
3 younger Israeli Arabs from Umm al-Fahm burst into the compound, the 3rd holiest site in Islam, armed with makeshift machine guns, a pistol and knives. As they made their way, they shot and murdered 2 Border Patrol officers stationed at one of the entrances. Their plan was to take control of Al-Aqsa and in so doing spark a huge conflagration in Jerusalem, and potentially Israel, the West Bank and the whole Middle East. The good news is, Border Patrol officers responded rapidly, and after a brief chase through the square surrounding the mosques there, shot and killed the 3 attackers.
It was a brief episode, suppressed in a matter of seconds, but it was more than enough to send shock waves across Israel and the Palestinian territories. It pressured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to link arms and work together, in spite of their mutual loathing and current competition for support from the US administration. They were both committed to preventing a further deterioration in the situation or escalation, which could have left them both trapped by flames. Netanyahu called Abbas almost instantly to report what had developed and attempt to put an end to the rumors and fake news that tends to inundate social networks after such occurrences. Abbas responded as Netanyahu had anticipated, condemning the attack in extraordinarily sharp terms.
The attack was not the nightmare situation that genuinely terrifies Israel. The truth is, the defense establishment has always been less troubled about a Muslim attack on the Temple Mount, since the Haram al-Sharif is sacred to them. What they really feared was an attack by an extremist Jew in an effort to set the Middle East and the whole Muslim world on fire, laying the ground for the War of Armageddon between Islam and the Jews and ending with the appearance of the Messiah on his white donkey. Under this situation, Al-Aqsa Mosque would be demolished and the Third Temple rebuilt on its site of the original Temple.
Israeli security forces have averted several such attacks over the years. Only limited numbers of Jews are now permitted on the Temple Mount. They are restricted to tiny groups, specific hours and can only visit after undergoing a thorough security clearance. Although the likelihood that armed Muslims could storm the compound has been taken into consideration, it was never a high priority to which to prepare. However, that is precisely what happened. As a result of the attack, Israel made the unusual move of closing the area to Muslim prayers through the following day.
The Temple Mount was reopened July 16 with new security measures in place. Metal detectors and X-ray machines were set up at the entrances for Muslims going to pray. Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein and Waqf officials emerging that morning refused to go into the compound, challenging that the introduction of metal detectors at the entrances constituted a significant Israeli violation of the status quo at the site.
As outlined by the status quo agreement, dating back to 1967, the Waqf (guardian of Muslim holy sites), administered by Jordan, is accountable for prayer arrangements and management of the mosques in the compound. Israel keeps an eye on activities, but from a distance. Metal detectors slow the flow of people into the site, which in turn could delay prayers, the Waqf lamented. With Israel seeking to guard against a repeat attack, the metal detectors are still there, and only a trickle of people are going up to the mount. Muslims have voted with their feet, as problems between Israel, Jordan, and the Waqf percolates.
The battle over who controls the Temple Mount has been raging behind the scenes for some time now. After all, the Gates of Hell in the Middle East could open at this very site. Officially, Israel controls the site and is responsible for security, but Israeli sovereignty is not executed in the mosques themselves. Since the Israel Defense Forces conquered East Jerusalem, it has been Israeli policy not to get involved in affairs on the Haram al-Sharif and to permit the Waqf free rein in managing the site. That is why no Israeli flag flies over the mount.
For years, the Waqf has been controlled by Jordan. Israel views Jordan to be an important regional ally, so it supports this arrangement. However, the situation has been changing fast over the past few years. Turkey is now attempting to purchase influence and control over the Haram al-Sharif, and radical Islamic groups, specifically Salafis, are establishing a presence to apply pressure there, such as through the Mourabitoun activists. The truth is, these days everyone appears to have their hands in something there. All this exacerbates Israel’s biggest security frustration.
At least 2 clashes over procedures on the Temple Mount have happened in the last 2 years. One of these was linked to the eruption of violence in the occupied territories in September 2015 and the other flared in April 2016. What really intensifies tensions currently is the demand by religious Jews to visit the area, considered the holiest site in Judaism. Until just a decade ago, most rabbis restricted Jews from ascending the mount for religious purposes. More recently, on the other hand, quite a few rabbis affiliated with religious Zionism have allowed their followers to visit. This has resulted in a huge wave of Jews attempting to get there any way they can, which drives Muslim paranoia.
In the previous 2 conflicts surrounding the Temple Mount, the US administration under President Barack Obama played a dramatic role in restoring calm. Secretary of State John Kerry engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Amman and spent dozens more hours on the phone until calm was restored, and the predicament returned to its pre-crisis state. In both instances, Netanyahu was persuaded to notify Jordan’s King Abdullah II that Israel will maintain the status quo down to the very last detail.
No one in Washington is being kept up to speed on the current state of affairs. Kerry has retired, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is more involved in Iran and the Persian Gulf. Additionally, there is no way the Americans will so much as dip their finger into the powder keg atop the most important plateau in the world. In the meantime, Israel, the Palestinians, the Waqf, Jordan, the Turks and the Salafis are all playing this hazardous game on their own, making the problem more treacherous than ever.
Are you prepared for the real New World Order? Make no mistake about it. There are Those who will go to the extremes to make the Prophecies Manifest.
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