The fateful decision to place metal detectors on the Temple Mount was announced on Saturday, July 15, with almost no fanfare.
On that night, some 36 hours after Border Police officers Haiel Stawi and Kamil Shnaan were killed by three Israeli Arabs from Umm el-Fahm using weapons that were hidden on the Temple Mount, the Prime Minister’s Office issued the following statement: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held telephone security consultations a short while ago about the Temple Mount issue. It was decided in the discussions to gradually reopen the mount starting tomorrow afternoon to worshipers, visitors and tourists,” the statement read. “It was decided that metal detectors will be placed at entrances to the Temple Mount, and that cameras will be set up outside the mount to cover what is happening on it.”
The statement said that other security steps would be taken in the future, and that Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Nadav Argaman participated in the consultations.
While the Prime Minister’s Office would not say on Sunday whose idea it was to install metal detectors, Channel 2 reported that during the initial security consultations, he gave instructions to immediately buy as many as needed.
On Saturday night, July 15, Netanyahu flew to Paris. Before boarding the plane, he again mentioned the issue. “This evening I held a discussion with the top security leadership and I instructed that metal detectors be placed at the entrance gates to the Temple Mount,” he said. “We will also install security cameras on poles outside the Temple Mount but which give almost complete control over what goes on there. I decided that as of tomorrow, in the framework of our policy of maintaining the status quo, we will gradually open the Temple Mount, but with increased security measures.”
Jerusalem on alert ahead of Palestinian Day of Rage over Temple Mount, July 21, 2017. (Credit: Reuters)
On the day of the murders on the Temple Mount, Netanyahu held two rounds of security consultations with the top security brass. Following the second round, his office put out a statement saying that he issued directives to “significantly strengthen security arrangements on the access roads to the Temple Mount.”
He also initiated phone calls on the day of the Temple Mount attack with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. In the readout of the call with Abbas, the PMO said that Netanyahu made clear that Israel would “take all necessary actions to ensure security on the Temple Mount, without changing the status quo.”
The Prime Minister’s Office did not put out a readout of the call with Abdullah, but the Jordanian news agency Petra did, saying Abdullah stressed the need to de-escalate the situation, and reiterated his condemnation of the attack and “rejection of violence in all its forms.”
According to the statement, Abdullah underlined the need to prevent any party “from disrupting security and stability, which could lead to further violence and extremism.”
The statement – which was soon removed from Petra’s website – made no mention of the metal detectors.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office refused to say whether the issue was discussed with either Abdullah or Abbas.
The metal detectors were installed on Sunday, July 16, and officials of the Wakf Muslim religious trust urged worshipers not to enter the mount as a form of protest. On Monday evening, Muslims began praying near the Lions’ Gate rather than going through the metal detectors to the site, and clashes with the police ensued.
Last Wednesday, as the tensions continued to mount, Shin Bet and IDF officials reportedly recommended in security consultations with the prime minister that Israel look for an alternative to the metal detectors, warning that the situation could spiral out of control.
Netanyahu returned to Israel on Thursday from Budapest and held a security cabinet meeting to discuss the issue. The security cabinet was not convened a week earlier to discuss the initial decision to set up the metal detectors.
At Thursday night’s security cabinet meeting, which spilled over into Friday morning, only two ministers argued for the removal of the metal detectors – Construction Minister Yoav Galant, and National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Transport and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, Erdan, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin all voted for keeping the detectors in place.
Interior Minister Arye Deri and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who were not in attendance for the vote, gave Netanyahu the discretion to vote as he wished.
Following that vote, the security cabinet issued a statement saying it had authorized the police to take any decision necessary to ensure free access to the holy sites, while providing security and ensuring public order.
On Saturday night, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, said in an interview on BBC Arabic that Israel was considering other ideas instead of the metal detectors.
On Sunday, as criticism continued to mount over the decision to put the metal detectors at the site, Erdan said that “no government security agency warned that putting up the metal detectors would provoke the reaction we’ve seen.”
Erdan told Army Radio, “The IDF, the Shin Bet and the police were involved in the decision-making process, and none of them objected.”
On Facebook he wrote the following: “The IDF, the Shin Bet and the police are doing everything they can to defend us all. The metal detectors are just an excuse [used by the Palestinians].
We must not give in to threats and violence, and that is the reason the security cabinet decided on Friday to keep them in place.”
Erdan said that as long as the police do not approve another security plan that can ensure security on the Temple Mount, the metal detectors should not be removed, and “anyone who wants to enter the mount, will have to pass through them.”
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