Security forces on high alert ahead of possible Jerusalem declaration
Defense establishment sources say an American announcement that will change the status quo in Jerusalem would be seen by Hamas as a reason to inflame the tensions on the Palestinian street and turn the organization's anniversary celebrations into a series of days of rage and terror attacks.
The US administration has instructed its consulates and embassies in the Middle East to raise their alert level for fear of protests against American institutions.
Police, Shin Bet and Central Command officials have been meeting in recent days to evaluate the situation and prepare for a wave of riots and terror attacks, which could be similar to the attacks that took place following the decision to place metal detectors at the Temple Mount in July.
Defense establishment officials stress that the Palestinian leadership's harsh comments against the possible American move have yet to cross the line and push the Palestinian street towards acts of violence, but say the line could be crossed in an instant even without the Palestinian Authority's encouragement. The fiery atmosphere in the Palestinian media could spur lone-wolf attacks, stabbing attacks and acts of terror by independent cells even before an American announcement.
The Palestinian leadership still hopes that the moderate Arab states' pressure on the White House will stop President Trump from making any declarations on Jerusalem. Diplomatic sources in Washington confirmed Monday that a decision on the issue had yet to be made, saying that the president's team had prepared a variety of "creative alternatives" for a commitment to move the embassy to Jerusalem, although no one knows what the president's final decision will be.
Hamas incited the Palestinian street with all its force Monday as part of the organization's preparations for its 30th anniversary celebrations. Hamas was officially founded on December 14, but Israeli security sources say an American announcement that will change the status quo in Jerusalem would be seen as a reason to inflame the tensions on the street and turn the celebrations into a series of days of rage and terror attacks.
Israeli officials believe Hamas will make an unusual effort to launch a major attack in a bid to deal with its new image in Gaza—as an organization which has taken the diplomatic path, moved closer to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, chosen a moderate policy vis-à-vis Israel and given up the armed struggle—after it stopped Islamic Jihad from acting against Israel to avenge the destruction of the organization's border-crossing tunnel.
The Hamas leadership abroad, primarily the Hamas military headquarters in Turkey, is behind the effort to launch violent attacks during the organization's anniversary celebrations. Military commander Saleh al-Arouri, who allegedly found shelter in Lebanon after Ankara reportedly shut down the Hamas office, is actually spending most of his time in Turkey and in the Gulf states, operating cells and transferring funds to Hamas members in the West Bank. At the same time, the Gaza headquarters operating Hamas operatives in the West Bank—comprised of terrorists who were released in the Shalit deal—is trying to launch terror attacks in the territories as well.
Security sources in Israel believe the Palestinian protest will be reflected both in the activity of institutionalized organizations and in a rise in the activity of lone-wolf terrorists, which has seen a decrease recently. The Palestinian establishment is apparently trying to lead the incitement against the expected American move in the religious direction. Any American move that would change the status quo on Jerusalem would be presented as a move against the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
The popular protest against the metal detectors was also led by religious leaders in Jerusalem: The grand mufti of Jerusalem on behalf of the PA, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein; Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the Islamic Movement's representative; and Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the director of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on behalf of the Waqf.
This trio is leading a large group of different religious clerics and has a greater influence on the Palestinian street than the political leadership. This group, Israeli officials believe, will lead any move against the possible American announcements. The PA, however, is still seeking a controlled non-violent response in a bid to prevent a descent into anarchy.