Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an emergency security meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the deteriorating security situation in Jerusalem, as ongoing clashes on the Temple Mount threaten to harm diplomatic ties with Jordan.
Netanyahu announced the meeting after Alexander Levlovitz, 64, was killed in a car crash on Sunday night allegedly caused by a rock-throwing attack on his car in the capital.
“The prime minister views gravely the throwing of rocks and gasoline bombs at Israeli citizens and intends to fight this phenomenon with all means, including stricter punishment and law enforcement,” said a statement issued by his office.
Netanyahu was expected at the late-night meeting, which ended after press time, to push for swift legislation that will set a minimum punishment for those endangering lives by throwing rocks or firebombs.
According to Netanyahu’s office, the prime minister wants more aggressive legal action, as well as operational steps on the ground, to increase deterrence.
In addition, he was expected to stress that the government will act aggressively against “anyone who wants to breach the status quo on the Temple Mount.”
The comments about the Temple Mount seemed aimed at Jordan’s King Abdullah, who on Monday - during comments to the press made alongside visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron - warned that the situation in Jerusalem threatened the relationship between Jordan and Israel.
Netanyahu has taken pains over the past two years - whenever there were clashes around the Temple Mount - to stress that Israel has no intention to change the status quo at the site.
“We in Jordan have been very concerned and angered with the recent escalations in Jerusalem, specifically in Al-Aksa Mosque,” Abdullah was quoted as saying by the Petra news agency.
“We have gotten reassurances from the Israeli government that this would not happen,” he said, “Unfortunately, these are reassurances we have heard in the past. So, I would like to state, in your presence that if this continues to happen, actually as of today, any more provocations in Jerusalem will affect the relationship between Jordan and Israel, and Jordan will have no choice, but to take action, unfortunately.”
Among those at the security meeting on Tuesday night were Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and other senior security officials.
Erdan, in a Facebook post on Tuesday night, spoke of the need to stiffen penalties against rock-throwers, in order to create deterrence against what he said are “murderers in every sense.
“I will not allow this phenomenon to continue,” he said, adding that those who throw rocks “must not be able to be released on bail or after being given community service. This is not how you establish deterrence.”
Erdan said that in the current state of affairs “the odds that any of them [rock-throwers] will be sentenced to years in prison are nil,” and that this reality is “unacceptable.”
Before the meeting, Ya’alon issued a statement saying that the spate of attacks “obligate us to engage in a determined, uncompromising struggle, in the operational-intelligence field and the legal sphere. This is what we are doing, and what we will continue to do through all of the means available to us.”
Ya’alon added that “the situation in which the security of Israeli civilians is harmed, especially in the Jerusalem area and in Judea and Samaria, as a result of rock throwing, is intolerable from our perspective.
“We will not allow any element, whether acting alone as a result of incitement or acting in an organized manner, to disrupt routine life in the State of Israel. We will continue to pursue the terrorists and place our hands on them, and continue to act with zero tolerance toward anyone who threatens Israeli civilians, IDF soldiers, and Israel Police and Border Police officers.”
Meanwhile, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s Middle East envoy, expressed during his monthly briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday “grave concern” over the violence in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount.
As the Middle East faces a “vicious tide of terror and extremism,” the situation in Jerusalem and “serious provocations” there “have the potential to ignite violence well beyond the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem,” Mladenov said.
“I urge all political, community, and religious leaders to ensure that visitors and worshipers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area,” he said.
“All sides have a responsibility to refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric.”
Mladenov said it is “imperative that the historic status quo is preserved, in line with the agreements between Israel and his majesty the king of Jordan, as custodian of the Muslim Holy sites in Jerusalem.”
Speaking of the diplomatic process in general, Mladenov said “a comprehensive approach must be advocated, consisting of bold, concrete actions on the ground, in the region and internationally.
It will necessitate significant policy shifts by Israel as well as an unflinching commitment on the Palestinian side to achieving genuine national unity.”Ben Hartman and Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.