Israel Police is preparing for a "worst-case scenario" on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, Jerusalem District Police Commander Nati Gur told Ynet on Sunday as the Muslim world welcomes the month of Ramadan — a time of heightened religious fervor.
This would be Gur's third year filling one of the most stressful positions in the Israeli police force, but during a tour of the capital's historical Old City, he confidently said: "We will know how to respond to any incident."
"Saying that the situation on the ground is like a powder keg within an ace from a blowing up would be an exaggeration, but we are definitely facing challenging times ahead," he said with strong conviction.
"We have very high-quality officers here, and there are excellent commanders who can get the job done best. We are vigilant and we have unprecedented operational readiness. The combination of all this together will allow us to pass this period safely. We have been preparing for terrorist attacks, mass rioting, manpower crunch, and handling multiple locations at once. We know how to respond, our forces are strong and well trained, but I hope it won't have to come to this. If it does happen ultimately, we are ready for it."
This year, the police are expecting a record number of worshipers to ascend the Temple Mount after two years of COVID-19 pandemic-induced curbs on gatherings at the religious site. "The number of people will be higher, and accordingly, we bolstered the number of police officers around the Old City," the commander said.
As Israel grapples with a spate of Islamist terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 11 Israelis, tensions are running high around Jerusalem, but Commander Gur says that the terror threat in the capital is always present. "In March, we experienced two attacks in the Old City, at the gates of the Temple Mount. The terror threat is very real. We witnessed it in the past few weeks, and we prepared for Ramadan by learning the lessons from last May's Palestinian riots."
Another challenge bedeviling law enforcement is disinformation circulating online that plays a key role in stoking the simmering tensions.
"We are dealing with a lot of disinformation by people who want to incite and disseminate a false image of what is happening on Temple Mount. We have established a task force that knows how to respond and deal with such cases and answer for them before things get out of hand."
Gur further says that Israel Police is pushing to recruit more officers to backfill understaffed sectors. "I'm not familiar with the exact numbers, but I think there is a shortage of officers, at least in my sector, and the Israel Police is doing what it can to recruit more officers."
"We recruit more personnel all the time and we are trying to carry out mass recruitment campaigns. I think now is a good time to join the force, and to serve with a sense of confidence and pride in the Israeli police. I have been on the force for almost 30 years with great pride to serve the State of Israel through police service, in such complex places, and to deal with such tremendous challenges."
"We see what is happening all over the country and I think it is really a privilege to come and serve with the Israeli police, and we would love for good people to come and join us."
"I feel that Jerusalem District Police in particular and Israel Police as a whole are well prepared for Ramadan. I hope Ramadan, which is a jovial festival, will be full of holiday spirit, and everyone will enjoy it. Nevertheless, we are ready to respond to any incident in our sector," Gur concluded.