Prime Minister Netanyahu listened to the Israeli defense establishment, and did a U-turn on the Temple Mount crisis. Israel dismantled the metal detection gates it had installed after the deadly terrorist gun attack earlier this month, which occurred after the cell smuggled firearms into the Al-Aksa Mosque compound – Islam’s third holiest site – and used them to murder 2 Israeli police officers.
Below is a list of factors that seemed to drive Netanyahu’s decision to back down.
(Disclaimer: The following is a cost benefit analysis, not a comment on who is responsible for the crisis. As former Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen said yesterday, Israel is not to blame for the violent and irrational reaction of the Palestinian side of this story).
Israel’s decision, taken at the behest of the defense establishment, will probably achieve the following:
- Prevent the outbreak of a Third intifada in the West Bank, east Jerusalem, and among some Israeli Arab communities. Prevent the possible unravelling of the Palestinian Authority, which would give Hamas a boost in the West Bank. Netanyahu’s U-Turn dodged a major and likely bloody confrontation, fuelled by religious hysteria, which would have destabilized the Palestinian arena, and taken considerable Israeli resources to deal with.
- Avoid a knock-on escalation of the Gaza front, which has been very quiet for the past three years, following the ceasefire reached with Hamas in 2014. This quiet has allowed southern Israel, particularly those areas near the Gaza Strip, to flourish.
- Free up the IDF to continue its focus on war readiness and combat training, which the military has placed at the top of its priorities.
- Free up the Israeli defense establishment to focus on the top threat to Israel today, and that is the Hezbollah army, deployed across Lebanon and Syria, and armed with 120,000 rockets and missiles – an arsenal of projectiles larger than that of most NATO members.
- Hezbollah is part of a wider Iranian-Shi’ite axis, which is, step by step, working to spread its influence and build a land corridor stretching from Tehran to Beirut, via Baghdad and Damascus. A new and avoidable confrontation with Palestinians would serve as a distraction from the strategic threat posed by the Iranian-led axis.
- The crisis threatened to destabilize Jordan, which, despite the hostility and hatred of its population against Israel, remains a strategic asset. The Hashmeite Kingdom helps keep Israel’s longest border, to the east, free of incidents, while most of Israel’s other borders could face an escalation at any time.
Here is the main disadvantage of the decision to back down:
- It could feed the aggression of radical Islamist elements in the region, which might misinterpret Israel’s move as a sign of weakness. They could try to force more concessions through violence, terrorism, and intimidation tactics.