Provocation on the Temple Mount

Uri Dan, THE JERUSALEM POST Aug. 4, 2004

Islamic extremists may target the Dome of the Rock or the al-Aksa mosque, the two Muslim shrines atop the Temple Mount (Haram es-Sharif in Arabic), aiming to lay the blame on Israel.

I am told by Israeli experts with considerable experience in countering terror that they are worried about such provocations being perpetrated by Israeli or Palestinian Arabs, or by Muslim fanatics associated with international terror.

Paradoxically, what arouses anxiety is the possibility that Islamist fanatics may try to exploit the flood of recent media coverage suggesting that Jewish extremists might attempt to attack the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount.

Reported threats of a possible Jewish extremist attack on the shrines are nothing new but have garnered greater attention recently because they were aired publicly by Internal Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi. He also complained that despite repeated requests for additional funding to better protect the Temple Mount, his ministry has not yet received additional funds.

Hanegbi’s warnings of a supposed Jewish threat to the shrines were widely publicized in the Arab media. In a sense, here were the Jews themselves admitting that they were threatening Islamic holy places.

The accusation is that Jewish extremists want to destroy the shrines to make room for the construction of the Third Temple, or to try to torpedo Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan for the Gaza Strip. Sure enough, there were a handful of messianic right-wing types who immediately hinted in the media that they would like to see the shrines disappear from the Temple Mount.

Not surprisingly, banner headlines about a possible attack on the Temple Mount by Jewish extremists generated threats from Islamic extremist leaders in Israel and abroad warning of retaliation by “a billion Muslims” if anything happened on Haram es-Sharif.

IN FACT, the current Islamist terror war against Western democracies has created a breeding ground for provocation on the Temple Mount. But the danger does not stem from Jewish extremists.

Islamic terrorists throughout the world have carried out attacks not only in the West but also in Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

Consequently, the danger does exist that enemies of the Jewish state might attack the shrines on the Temple Mount with the explicit aim of placing the blame on Israel. Against the background of official Israeli declarations about the danger posed by Jewish extremists, such an attack could disguise the actual perpetrators.

Those who want proof that the enemy is capable of concocting such a blood libel should examine the recent declarations by Yasser Arafat accusing the Shin Bet of being the hidden hand behind suicide attacks against Israelis.

Arafat and his cohorts have no difficulty lying with brazen impudence or inventing blood libels against Israel. I still remember how Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat declared in a CNN interview broadcast from Jericho in 2002 that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem “was burning. The Israelis shelled it.”

The truth is, Palestinian terrorists had “hijacked” the Christian shrine to avoid being taken into custody. Not a single hair on Erekat’s head trembled as he lied before an international audience in a live broadcast.

Regrettably, there will always be Jews who play into the hands of the Palestinian enemy – intentionally or not – to put the blame on Israel.

Israeli authorities should be the first to explain that the danger of provocation against the shrines on the Temple Mount comes from Muslims – including terrorists in the ranks of Palestinians loyal to Arafat.

The Israeli security establishment must improve the means of protecting the Temple Mount against Islamist factions with at least the same degree of fervor and professionalism that they display against Jews. Recall that Jews are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, despite the fact that it is the most holy place for the Jewish nation.

The danger of Arab provocation on the Temple Mount is so grave that it calls for not only the absence of irresponsible Israeli declarations by cabinet ministers and senior officers but also a constant re-examination of security procedures and the security establishment methodology itself.

The writer is the Mideast correspondent of The New York Post.