"In the Quran, the word Jerusalem is not mentioned even once. Nothing. It's not even hinted at," Chief IDF Rabbi Rafi Peretz was recorded saying in an explosive comments first broadcast by Israeli media.
Speaking to a group of seminary students, Peretz said also said that "90% of Arabs have no idea what is written in the Quran," the Channel 10 recording revealed.
His comments come at an especially tense time, with fears of additional clashes between Muslim Arabs and Israelis at the flashpoint Temple Mount. Israel and the Palestinian Authority have begun taking practical steps to defuse growing anger at what is perceived as an Israeli attempt to change the status-quo at the holy site.
The comments were made by the rabbi in response to a question from one of the students regarding Muslim's affinity to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).
After noting that Arabs do not have a thorough knowledge of the Quran, Rabbi Peretz claimed that "we know better than many of them, trust me." Part of his comments were also published on the Kippa.com website.
Regarding the al-Aqsa mosque, located inside the Temple Mount compound, Rabbi Peretz rhetorically asked: "What is al-Aqsa, do you know? It means make me a sanctuary 'at the edge'. At the edge of what? Of Mecca! At the end of the Arabian Peninsula.
"The Dome of the Rock (the gold gilded mosque also located inside the compound) is not at the edge, and so I said: It's just (an issue of) respect. It has no religious significance for Islamic faith."
The rabbi continued, saying that Mecca and not Jerusalem was the heart of Islam: "They do (religious rites) it at the edge of the Temple Mount, but to which direction do they pray? To Mecca! Their backs are turned to the Temple Mount. So what are they doing on the Temple Mount?"
In response to the explosive recording, the IDF said in response that "the Chief Rabbi's comments were taken out of context and do not accurately depict the rabbi's position. The rabbi apologizes if his words offended the Arab population."
Tensions over the compound, the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest place in Judaism, have fuelled repeated clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in recent weeks, culminating in a one-day closure of the mosque a month and a half ago – a move that was quickly reversed following massive outcry in the Muslim world.
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordan's King Abdullah II – who is the joint custodian of the holy site - met in Amman, Jordan and reiterated the three nation's commitment to the status-quo at in Jerusalem.
In a press conference held after the meeting, Kerry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said all sides had agreed to take "practical steps" to deescalate the situation.