Raids on Islams’ third-holiest site create rifts even with Tel Aviv’s relatively friendly Middle Eastern neighbours.
Israeli raids inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound are risking a series of problematic circumstances in the region, including a breakdown in relations with Jordan, a multiple-front armed conflict with Arab neighbors, and even a threat to American influence in the Middle East.
On April 4, an Israeli raid on Al-Aqsa mosque’s Qibli prayer hall sparked international outrage, with videos of the militarized unit beating unarmed worshippers with guns and batons spreading across social media. Palestinians, whom Israel had sought to expel from the Holy Site, barricaded themselves inside and attempted to repel Israeli forces with fireworks, but were ultimately unsuccessful. The storming of the site resulted in over 400 worshippers being arrested, injured, or both, with two serious injuries inflicted. However, what followed next began to make the headlines.
In a deluge of popular outrage, Palestinians across all dividing lines took to the streets throughout the country to demonstrate and even attack Israeli vehicles. Inside the occupied West Bank, armed groups also opened fire on dozens of military checkpoints, outposts, and soldiers stationed near illegal settlements. Rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, and the biggest rocket attack since 2006 was launched the following day from Lebanon against Israel. Then on August 9, 6 rockets were fired from Syria into the occupied Golan Heights. Israel also launched its own airstrikes at targets in Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon.
What became clear is that the strategy Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, had vowed to build in 2021, had come to fruition – a multi-front military confrontation in reaction to Israeli assaults on worshippers at Jerusalem’s Holy Sites. Interestingly, the regional Arab states that have proven more friendly to Israel have remained largely silent on the rocket fire from Lebanon, Gaza, and Syria, with the exception of Jordan, whose Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sinan Al-Majali, blamed Israel for the escalation. What this likely reflects is a growing frustration on the part of Amman towards Israel’s provocative actions inside the Al-Aqsa compound.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan currently enjoys cordial relations with Israel having signed a peace treaty in 1994, making trade and diplomatic efforts between both sides possible on the scale we see today. However, the Hashemite ruler of Jordan, King Abdullah II, maintains what is known as custodianship over Jerusalem’s Holy Sites, which translates to joint security management inside Al-Aqsa mosque by the Palestinian-Jordanian Waqf. The situation at the site is that Israel’s border police operate around the periphery of the mosque, manning the gates on the outside, but inside the guards of the Waqf operate. Every time Israeli forces enter the mosque, they are supposed to coordinate with the Jordanian Waqf first, terms they have routinely violated.
In January, just days into the rule of the new Israeli government, Tel Aviv’s Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, stormed the site under the protection of Israeli border police, sparking a debate in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the incident. Despite Israel’s pronouncements of respect for the status quo at the Holy Site, verbal sparring took place in the Security Council between Jordan’s ambassador and his Israeli counterpart, Gilad Erdan, who defended the actions of far-right minister Ben-Gvir.
The status quo inside Al-Aqsa is that the site is a mosque and hence a place of worship for Muslims, but there are special hours during the day to allow for visitors of all backgrounds. Yet, Israel allows its settler groups, as part of the Temple Mount movement, to enter the site at the expense of Muslim worshippers and to worship there, violating the status quo. Various Temple Mount movement groups receive funding from charities in the West and advocate the destruction of the mosque in order to replace it with a synagogue. Last year, 48,000 Israelis entered Al-Aqsa in this provocative way, much to the ire of Jordan. During the Holy Month of Ramadan, Israeli border forces ordered the expulsion of Muslim worshippers from the site in order to escort radical settlers into the compound, which is what actually led to the violence on April 4.
Israel claims that it acted in an appropriate manner, to secure the safety of “non-Muslim visitors” to the site. However, in reality, the raid was a political statement, using excessive force to clear the mosque of Muslims in order to facilitate the provocative entry of Israeli Temple Mount extremists. The Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy blamed Palestinians for barricading themselves in the Qibli prayer hall, yet, following rocket fire from Lebanon, Palestinians did it again while Israeli forces held off, apparently over fears of an escalation. Instead of violence breaking out due to worshippers stationing themselves inside the mosque when the Temple Mount groups entered, the site was peaceful and no clash erupted, proving Israel’s security rationale wrong.
Through its continued push to alter the status quo at Al-Aqsa, Israel is actively creating a rift with neighboring Jordan, as well as provoking a popular Palestinian uprising and armed attacks from Syria, Gaza, and Lebanon. If the provocations persist, especially during Ramadan, Tel Aviv could see itself isolated in the region, as no country will actively stand against actions taken in the name of defending the third-holiest site in the Islamic faith. The Jordanian parliament and the nation’s people are also outraged at their government’s relationship with Israel, placing great pressure on the leadership of Amman to act.
This all could have been avoided if Israel did not support the Temple Mount groups. More importantly, the US is looking on with great concern, as its own role in the region deteriorates and its top Middle East asset stands on the verge of an unnecessary multi-front military confrontation.
Image credit: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA