Former Shin Bet chief on Temple Mount crisis: Choosing between bad options

The former head of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, Yoram Cohen, gave an interview to Israel Radio today, discussing ways to move forward on the Temple Mount crisis.

Cohen spent 5 years leading the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), which successfully stopped untold numbers of mass casualty terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. His analysis is worth noting.

Here is a summary of his points:

Cohen was clear at the start that self-flagellation has no place in this story. This crisis is, obviously, not Israel’s fault, but rather, the result of hysterical incitement and radical religious fundamentalism on the Palestinian side.

Arab-Israeli Knesset Members, Palestinian figures, and others in the wider Arab-Muslim world are fueling the fire with ludicrous conspiracy theories and shameless lies about Israel’s activities on the Temple Mount.

“Young people take knives and axes and come to murder Jews because who knows what they think we are doing in Temple Mount,” Cohen said.

The crisis began after a deadly jihadist attack at the Temple Mount that claimed the lives of two Israel Police officers in mid-July. After that the Israeli government and Israel Police installed metal detection gates outside of the Temple Mount.

The remainder of Cohen’s points:

  • When Israel does things which are reasonable on the Temple Mount it is still perceived as taking illegitimate steps by the other side, which is under the influence of irrational religious emotion and a refusal to recognize Israel’s presence there.
  • Israel must choose between a number of bad options now. 
  • Currently, the situation is escalating as time goes by, and this is not in Israel’s supreme strategic interest, which Cohen defined as achieving quiet.
  • Therefore, Israel should search for an alternative solution to the metal detectors. Going for a different security set up will still harm Israel, as its image of sovereignty on the Temple Mount will be damaged. “But strategically we have to check whether it is good for us to be right, and pay a price in the form of escalation in Jerusalem, the West Bank, in Israel [among Israeli Arabs], and Gaza.”
  • “The problem is that we see, as time progresses, that they are leveraging these incidents. Our logic is right. Professionally, it was right [installing the gates]. It protects both sides [Jews and Arabs]. The problem is that not everything here is rational. A lot of this is emotional. Therefore… in light of the escalation, and the price we paid, and could pay if there is additional religious and national escalation, I call for alternative solutions to the ones the police found.”




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