Amman embassy shooting was just what Netanyahu needed
Op-ed: While the incident at the Israeli embassy compound cost two Jordanian citizens their lives, it provided the prime minister with a way out of the metal detector fiasco. Instead of strengthening Israeli sovereignty at the Temple Mount, the government demonstrated to the entire world that Israel is not the landlord there.
This is one gift which isn’t considered an offense under the Gift Law. Hallelujah. Jordan’s King Abdullah is vacationing in the United States these days. According to one report, he’s in Hawaii. According to another report, he’s on the West Coast. On Sunday evening, shortly after the incident, Netanyahu tried to reach the king on the phone. Abdullah was unavailable. Israeli officials were under the impression that the time difference was just an excuse. The king let Netanyahu sweat.
And he did sweat. The safety of the diplomats at the Israeli Embassy in Amman was not the only thing at stake; so was the future of Israel’s relations with Jordan and other Sunni states in the region, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the chance of quelling the violence in Israel and in the West Bank.
Like in the past, everyone was asked to help. American envoy Jason Greenblatt was called to mediate and raise Israeli ideas disguised as American ideas; Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman—whose organization was called “delusional” by Miri Regev—was urgently sent to Amman. The government ministers don’t believe him; the palace does.
Former Mossad Director Danny Yatom, who rescued Netanyahu from the failed assassination attempt of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in 1997, said Monday that in the event of a crisis, you must first of all think about the other side’s problem. As soon as it’s solved, your problem is solved too. And you must act fast. Twenty years ago, Netanyahu was forced to release Hamas spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, from Israeli custody and provide Mashal’s doctors with the antidote for the poison he was given. This time, the price will be paid in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind. The metal detector idea was born in the arrogant mind of police officers. Netanyahu, who had his reservations at first, adopted the idea as soon as Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett adopted it. Then, when the IDF and Shin Bet warnings were revealed, when the ministers, including Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, brushed off their share in the responsibility for the affair and placed it all on Netanyahu, he was afraid to withdraw. In his previous terms, Netanyahu had more room to maneuver. Now, there is an ambitious son at the prime minister’s residence, an heir to the throne, who—together with his mother—is pushing his father to the edge.
What’s the problem with the metal detectors, ministers are asking. Why there are metal detectors in Mecca too. They don’t understand that the dispute is not over metal detectors, but over sovereignty. The rules of the game were set 50 years ago by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan: The Israeli flag won’t be raised over the Temple Mount mosques. Israel will be the de fact sovereign, through the Israel Police, but the Waqf, whose leaders receive their salary from Jordan, will be responsible for the daily activity. Every move will be coordinated. Dayan was afraid, rightfully, of a religious war that would sweep the entire Muslim world.
There have been changes since then: Thanks to the peace agreement, Jordan officially entered the picture; the Palestinian Authority got a foothold after the Oslo Agreements; Sheik Raed Salah launched a poisonous propaganda war, which turned the compound into one big mosque that must not be touched; and, on the other side, national-religious Jews chose to violate the religious prohibition on visiting the Temple Mount. Their presence turned into a powderkeg. And the police stopped coordinating their moves with the Waqf.
From a security perspective, the metal detectors are unnecessary. They won’t prevent the smuggling of weapons into the Temple Mount. The decision to place them was political. Netanyahu felt he had to prove to his voters that he was imposing a collective punishment on the Palestinians following the murder of the two police officers, and the metal detectors were the available solution, a solution provided to him by the police.
The plan was to show that he is strengthening Israeli sovereignty at the Temple Mount. The result was the exact opposite: Placing the metal detectors and then removing them demonstrated to the entire world that Israel is not the landlord. Netanyahu, and the ministers who pushed him, weakened the Israeli foothold in the Temple Mount compound.
On Monday evening, Netanyahu convened the cabinet to decide to remove the metal detectors and replace them with smart cameras. In a previous round, in April 2016, Netanyahu reached an agreement with King Abdullah for the installation of 55 cameras under Jordanian and Israeli supervision. Right-wing politicians opposed the Jordanian presence, and Netanyahu reconsidered and embarrassed the king. For the cameras to be installed now, someone will have to give up on something they see as their own—either the right-wing ministers, who won’t entrust this symbolic power to foreigners, or Jordan’s king, who was promised involvement in the camera project.
The cameras are smart, the cabinet ministers were told. They will be able to distinguish from afar between an innocent worshipper and an armed terrorist, between a prayer bead and an explosive belt. The cameras are smart, there’s no doubt about it. Perhaps, instead of installing them at the Temple Mount gates, we’ll seat them around the cabinet table. There is a great shortage of wisdom there, a necessary commodity these days.