Within a week, the country’s headlines shifted from the crisis on the Temple Mount to reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s once-trusted aide Ari Harow was about to turn state’s witness.
Within seven days, the palpable tension a jittery nation felt last week – over whether the Friday Muslim prayers at al-Aksa Mosque would trigger a third intifada – gave way to other news: Harow; Elor Azaria; the plight of the workers at Haifa Chemicals and at Teva; the Gay pride parade in Jerusalem; the Facebook feud between Netanyahu’s son, Yair, and Ariel Olmert, the son of Ehud Olmert, triggered by the younger Netanyahu’s alleged failure to pick up after his dog.
In other words, the Temple Mount Crisis has – for the time being – been contained.
The emphasis here must be on the words “for the time being,” because the situation is still highly unstable and could change any minute. But, at least at this particular moment, the crisis that began three weeks ago with the murder of two border policeman near the Temple Mount – and snowballed into a full blown crisis with the installation and later removal of metal detectors at the site – did not ignite a third intifada.
Why not? Why did this crisis not trigger the same paroxysm of violence that the opening of the Western Wall tunnels did in 1996; that Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount did in 2000; or the lie that the Jews were planning to take over the Temple Mount did in 2015?
There are a number of reasons. The first has to do with the wider power play throughout the Middle East. Former National Security Council deputy head Eran Lerman has in the past divided the region into four camps – Iran, Islamic State, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Camp of Stability – saying that each of these is vying for control of the Middle East.
Muslim worshipers pray in protest outside of Temple Mount (Jeremy Sharon)
According to Lerman, all the struggles in the region – from Libya to Yemen and culminating in Syria – can be seen through the prism of this titanic battle between the camps for Mideast hegemony.
But one not need look as far afield as Libya, Yemen or Syria to see this competition; it can also be seen in Jerusalem.
Islamic State was not a player in the recent events in Jerusalem, but the other three camps were. The Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood camps, on one hand, had an interest in inflaming the passions and creating chaos and violence, while the countries in the Camp of Stability – states like Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – had an interest in containing the violence.
Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt have no interest now in fanning the flames of a holy war in Jerusalem, because that could stir up passions which may be difficult to control in their own street. It could also deflect attention from their primary fights with Iran and radical Islamic terrorism.
The Muslim Brotherhood camp – which includes Hamas, Turkey and Qatar – did have an interest in fanning the flames. Thus there were the calls from Hamas for violence and “days of rage” and the incendiary comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In this “Game of the Camps,” the Palestinian Authority sees itself in the Camp of Stability. And it wants to be seen as on the side of the Saudis, Jordanians and Egyptians, rather than on the side of Iran or Hamas. The problem is that this also put them on the side of Israel, not a comfortable place for them to be.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cut off security cooperation with Israel. And Fatah – like Hamas – called for days of rage. But Abbas stepped back from calling for a full-blown uprising over the issue, heeding reported calls from the Saudis, Jordanians and Egyptians to contain the crisis.
There are two other points to note in asking why the Temple Mount crisis did not spiral into a third intifada.
The first is an apparent lack of will on the Palestinian street; the second is a lack of capability.
Regarding will, the Arab Spring of 2011 revealed the masses did not take to the streets and confront the sources of power in countries which faced huge, dramatic problems in the recent past; not in Lebanon, not in Algeria and not among the Palestinians.
Some have interpreted this as evidence that those publics were still tired and worn out from their previous rounds of conflict, and that there was little appetite among the rank-and-file for more prolonged, violent confrontation that they would bear the brunt of. In short, they are not rushing out looking for new barricades to man.
And then there’s the issue of capabilities. Those who feared a third lethal intifada would erupt over the current crisis with the same degree of violence had forgotten that much has changed since the second intifada flared 17 years ago.
The Palestinian weapons factories, the bomb-making workshops – the pure amounts of weaponry that existed in the West Bank back in 2000 – are not there now anywhere near to the same degree they were then. Endless IDF raids looking for weapons, factories and suspects have left their mark on capabilities.
The desire among some Palestinians to blow up buses and kill Jews has not been extinguished. What has changed is their ability to manufacture the bombs and suicide vests – and the ability to smuggle them, along with the terrorists to trigger their weapons, into Israel. The Palestinians don’t have the lethal capabilities now which they had in 2000.
That is why the weapon of choice of Palestinians terrorists these days is a butcher knife. Those the IDF cannot get rid of.