Up until this moment, no authority, whether Israeli, Palestinian or Middle Eastern, has named the hand that orchestrated the July 14 shootout at Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a site sacred to three world faiths. Two Israeli police officers guarding the gate were shot dead and three of the Israeli Arab shooters gunned down in the chase.
Two days later, debkafile’s exclusive sources quoted Jordanian and Saudi intelligence services as anonymously fingering Iran as the mastermind of this attack.
In the light of the violent Palestinian disturbances that came next, some Israeli security circles pointed at Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, enemy of the Egyptian government under President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi, as being behind the outrage.
But whichever of the two hatched the plot had the same objective: to turn a single act of terror and its bloody aftermath into the catalyst for disrupting President Donald Trump’s plan for a new moderate Sunni Arab alignment that would also encompass normal relations with Israel.
Both suspects – whether Hizballah acting for Iran, or Turkey combined with Qatar and the Brotherhood – chalked up a second success: they brought Palestinian and Israeli Arab extremists together in a joint terrorist conspiracy for robbing Israel of its sovereign control over Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem.
This scheme was temporarily decelerated on Monday night, July 24, by a piece of smart diplomacy over an unforeseen incident in Amman.
Sunday, July 23, an Israel guard shot dead two Jordanians inside the embassy compound in Amman after he was stabbed and injured. Jordan demanded the guard’s surrender. Israel refused. Jordanian forces held the embassy under lockdown and its staff captive.
The Israeli-Jordanian diplomatic crisis was partly defused by Monday evening by a deal negotiated between Jordan’s King Abdullah and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, assisted by Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt.
The beleaguered embassy staff was allowed to leave, but the Jordanian government announced that it would not be allowed to return to Amman and recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv, until the Israeli guard was put on trial for killing the two Jordanians.
This left Jerusalem without a single diplomat in an Arab capital, since repeated attacks on its Cairo embassy forced the ambassador to maintain relations in absentia.
As soon as the Israeli diplomats were back home, the Israeli security cabinet agreed to dismantle the hotly-contested metal detectors installed at Temple Mount gates after the police murders.
Both Abdullah and Netanyahu came out of the standoff with honor. But it was a close thing, and is far from clearing up the fallout and violence that resulted from the murders on Temple Mount. .
Any terrorist outrage at Islam’s third most sacred shrine is calculated to light the match for a fresh surge of Palestinian violence and ignite the Muslim street at large.
Trump’s potential Arab allies were forced to distance themselves from his plan for an anti-Iran alignment with a strong Israeli military and intelligence component like a hot brick. A single act of terror was also intended to transform Temple Mount into an impassable gulf dividing Israel from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and all other Muslim leaders.
As images flashed across the world’s screens of Israeli police surrounding Temple Mount and clashing with Palestinian protesters, followed by horror pictures of Israelis slashed by Palestinian terrorists, Muslim Arab rulers could not afford to be caught consorting with the government in Jerusalem.
This was not the first pinpointed act of terror against a holy place to be instigated recently by an apparently anonymous party.
A month earlier, on June 22, the 27th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Saudi security forces thwarted a plot to attack the Grand Mosque at Mecca. The raids they conducted in Jeddah province and two districts of Mecca, including the Ajyad al-Masafi neighborhood near the Grand Mosque, ended in a shootout with a suspected suicide bomber. He blew himself up, bringing a three-floor building crashing down.
The blast injured six foreigners and five Saudi officers. Five suspects were arrested.
Had the plot, timed for the minor pilgrimage known as Umrah, succeeded, terrorists would have seized control of Islam's holiest site, the Kaaba, so undermining the legitimacy of the Saudi throne as Guardians of the Holy Places of Islam.
The Saudis were tightlipped about naming the plotters, just as Israel stayed mum a month later, swallowing its ire over the big hole shot through the delicate ties Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had painstakingly tended for years with Sunni Arab rulers, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who paraded his warm sentiments for Israel by skipping Ramallah during his visit to Jerusalem in the first week of July, would think twice about visiting now. Then, the Palestinians were back numbers on the world stage. Three weeks later, they are back on the international agenda.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who was away in China when these events played out, returned to Ramallah and snatched up the weapon dropped in his lap for bringing Israel to its knees and softened up for relinquishing sovereignty over Temple Mount, as well as Jerusalem. He saw his chance to climb over one of the toughest stumbling blocks in decades of peace diplomacy: the Jerusalem issue, and, in the process, save his sagging prestige at home – especially against Hamas.
As he saw it, the Netanyahu government was reduced to two choices: Cave in to the Palestinians, or stand firm and submit to an endless stream of terrorist bloodshed and a constant international squeeze for concessions to buy calm.
On the brink of launching the third Palestinian intifada in 17 years, the Palestinian leader felt he had reclaimed the levers used by Saudi King Salman, Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh-El-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah, for swinging the Palestinians and their leader into line. Now, they would have to turn their backs on the Jewish state.
However, all three key Arab rulers appreciate that the violence roiling around Temple Mount and its future ramifications imperil them no less than Netanyahu. If it is not stemmed, they may forfeit the largely covert political, security and intelligence ties they have developed with Israel in support of their regimes, at the very moment when it begins to see the light of day. Even if the shrine crisis forces them to return to the shadows of relationships, out of sight of their volatile people, those relations are bound to gradually lose their intensity, at the expense of those rulers’ personal and national security and their efforts to fend off terrorism.
On Sunday, July 23, the terror unleashed on July 14 in the heart of Jerusalem, spilled over into Jordan.
Five days later, after a week of Palestinian and Israeli Arab turbulence and street violence, Abbas boasted that Israel’s government heads and security chiefs had been forced to surrender to their pressure and remove the security devices they had installed at Temple Mount.
“This story is not over,” Abbas said Thursday, July 27. “We are waiting to see how Israel behaves in the coming year at UN institutions.”
Muslims were allowed by the Mufti to resume worship at Al Aqsa. They were planning to stage big victory demos, but they soon clashed with Israeli police. With this singular success under their belts, the Palestinians and their backers are preparing for the next round against Israel.