Security cabinet meets on alternative to Temple Mount metal detectors

Prior to the meeting, Netanyahu spoke with Jordan's King Abdullah II in an effort to find a way out of the crisis.

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July 24, 2017 22:11
4 minute read.
Palestinians stand in front of Israeli police officers at Temple Mount.

Palestinians stand in front of Israeli police officers and newly installed metal detectors at an entrance to the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City July 16, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The security cabinet met late Monday for the third time in five days to deal with the Temple Mount crisis amid signs the controversial metal detectors installed at the site 10 days ago will be removed and replaced with less visible cameras able to detect weapons and explosives.

This technological solution is the result of intensive discussions Israel Police held over the past week with leading security firms to find an alternative to the metal detectors, which enraged the Palestinians and part of the Muslim world and threatened to trigger a new round of violence.

The technology – which will cost in the hundreds of millions of shekels – also reportedly includes face-identification software.

Israel Police was also expected to present the security cabinet with a plan to significantly increase the number of officers in the Old City and around the Temple Mount.

Prior to the meeting, Netanyahu spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in an effort to find a way out of the crisis.

Jordan administers the site through the Wakf.

The Royal Hashemite Court issued a statement saying Abdullah “stressed the need to find an immediate solution and remove the causes of the ongoing crisis.”

The statement said Abdullah reiterated “the necessity of removing the measures adopted by the Israeli side since the recent crisis broke out and the importance of agreeing on measures to prevent the recurrence of such escalation in the future, in a manner that ensures respect for the historical and legal situation in the Holy Mosque.”

The security cabinet met Sunday evening as well, for some six hours, but failed to come to a decision on the metal detectors.

Much of that meeting also dealt with the unfolding crisis in Amman following the stabbing attack in the embassy compound.

The metal detectors were installed following the July 14 murder of two Border Police officers by three Israeli Arabs who had smuggled weapons onto the Temple Mount. Once the metal detectors were placed at the scene, worshipers refused to pass through them, and nightly prayers – often accompanied by clashes with the police – took place near the Lions’ Gate.

Prior to convening the security cabinet on Monday, Netanyahu met with US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who flew in to attempt to tamp down the crisis, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

A senior administration official said Greenblatt, who was in the country just over a week ago, returned to “support efforts to reduce tensions.”

From Jerusalem, Greenblatt will travel to Jordan and discuss the issue there with Jordanian officials, as well.

Greenblatt is also expected to raise with the Jordanians the issue of the Israeli security guard who was stabbed Sunday in the embassy compound by a Jordanian worker with a screwdriver, and shot and killed the assailant, as well as another person on the scene.

“[US] President [Donald] Trump and his administration are closely following unfolding events in the region,” a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post.

“The United States utterly condemns the recent terrorist violence, including the horrific attack Friday night that killed three people at their Shabbat dinner table in Halamish, and sends condolences to the families of the innocent victims.

We are engaged in discussions with the relevant parties and are committed to finding a resolution to the ongoing security issues.”

Last Wednesday, before three Palestinians were killed during riots in Jerusalem and a terrorist murdered three Israelis in Halamish, the US said it was “very concerned” over the situation, with the State Department calling on both sides to refrain from taking any “escalatory steps” or from changing the status quo on the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu has turned to Washington for help in trying to defuse the tension.

While Netanyahu’s decision to install the metal detectors has been widely criticized, and differences of opinion on the matter by the various security organizations – the IDF, Shin Bet and Israel Police – have been publicly aired, Netanyahu received a vote of confidence from his partners on the Right before the security cabinet meeting.

“The government of Israel is acting with responsibility, unity and thoughtfulness in the face of a complicated diplomatic and security situation,” said Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett at the start of his party’s weekly faction meeting.

“In contrast to the claims from the opposition benches, the decisions are being made in an orderly, rational and responsible manner and I fully back the prime minister, Israel Police and all the security forces,” he said.

“As a rule,” Bennett added, “at times of a security challenge, we must work together and prevent a discourse of mutual blame-games. This is why in the diplomatic and security discussions I made clear my position that decisions should be made unanimously and with wide support, in the [security] cabinet, as well, and I’m happy the ministers who sit on the cabinet with me adopted this recommendation.”

Meanwhile, in New York, UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned that a solution to the crisis was needed before this week’s Friday prayers.

“It is extremely important that a solution to the current crisis be found by Friday,” he told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council behind closed doors. “The dangers on the ground will escalate if we go through another cycle of Friday prayer without a resolution to this current crisis.”

The lack of a solution, he said, could have “potential catastrophic costs well beyond the walls of the Old City.”

Reuters contributed to this report.


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