Iranian threats don’t spook Israel, Temple Mount warnings do - analysis

Israel is not spooked by Iranian threats because it feels it can deal with them. It is frightened by threats of a global jihad over al-Aqsa.

 WAVING HAMAS flags after Ramadan prayers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, April 22. Occupationalists seems to side with Hamas and not with peaceful Muslim worshipers. (photo credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)
WAVING HAMAS flags after Ramadan prayers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, April 22. Occupationalists seems to side with Hamas and not with peaceful Muslim worshipers.
(photo credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)

It’s a tale of two threats and Israel’s reaction to them.

The first is promised revenge that comes from Iran whenever Israel carries out or is perceived to have carried out attacks against senior Iranian nuclear scientists or military leaders, or military leaders of Iran’s neighborhood proxies such as Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad.

The second is the promised fury that comes from Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Turkey (at least in the past), and the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch anytime Israel contemplates or is perceived to be contemplating any type of change on the Temple Mount that would allow Jews to pray at their holiest site.

In the first instance, Israel ignores the Iranian threats that – most of the time – are not carried out, either because of an unwillingness or an inability to do so. In the Temple Mount case, though, Israel takes the threats very seriously and adjusts its policy accordingly.

This dichotomy came into full focus on Sunday.

 Members of the Iranian revolutionary guard march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011.  (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER) Members of the Iranian revolutionary guard march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011. (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

If foreign reports and Iranian claims are to believed, on Sunday, Israel was behind the daring assassination in broad daylight in central Tehran of a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Sayyad Khodayari, a Quds Force colonel whose many activities Israel believes include attempts to attack Israelis abroad.

His killing was the implementation of a policy first elucidated in 2018 by then-education minister Naftali Bennett in a speech at Herzliya. The policy earned the title the “octopus doctrine” and posited that with Iran’s proxies spreading murder and mayhem across the region with its long tentacles Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, Israel needed to act by striking at the head of the octopus – Iran itself – rather than only its tentacles.

“The Iranians don’t love dying, but it is very easy for them to send others to die. While we’re shedding blood fighting their tentacles, the octopus’s head is lounging in its chair enjoying itself,” Bennett said. The time had come, he declared, for Israel “to aim at the head of the octopus and not its tentacles.”

Since that speech, there have been numerous strikes at the head of octopus itself, both at its nuclear infrastructure and at individuals – such as nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in 2020. And after each attack the Iranian regime thundered about the retribution it would extract.

It did so after Sunday’s hit as well, with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warning that the “blood of this great martyr will be avenged.” Other Iranian officials were quoted as saying that those responsible, meaning Israel, “will pay a heavy price.”

This is the pattern that emerges after every such action, with the ayatollahs apparently believing that threats of an “inferno” will strike fear in the heart of the Jews, whom they seem to believe are of “trembling knees.”

But it doesn’t.

Israel continues to take action against Iran, even reportedly inside Iran, despite all the threats and the posturing and the bluster, and despite real Iranian efforts to carry out the threats.

Why?

Because Israel feels that it must, that its security demands these risky actions. And also because it believes that it has the wherewithal to penetrate Iran to its core, and that if Iran does strike back, Israel can respond with a much harder counterpunch – something Iran’s leaders both are aware of and reluctant to invite.

In other words, Israel feels it has an antidote to anything Iran may deliver. So Israel hits at Iran, Iran spits fire and brimstone, and life in the Middle East carries on.

Not so when it comes to the Temple Mount. There, threats from various quarters that allowing Jews to say “Shema Yisrael” on the Temple Mount will trigger a religious war does lead to “trembling knees” and an alteration of Israeli policy.

This was seen in real-time on Sunday when a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Judge overturned a police order barring three Jews from the site because they prostrated and prayed there.

The reactions were fast in coming.

Hamas declared this “a dangerous escalation for which the leader of the occupation shall bear the consequences,” and that the “Palestinian nation as a whole will respond to these plans with all their might” to scuttle it.

“[The] Palestinian nation as a whole will respond to these plans with all their might.”

Hamas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called it a “serious violation” of the status quo and called on the US to intervene to stop it, and Jordan chimed in with condemnations and warnings of its own.

It did not take long before Israel backed down.

The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement Sunday evening clarifying that there is no change in the status quo on the Temple Mount.

“The Magistrate’s Court’s decision deals solely with the behavior of the minors brought before it, and represents no broader determination regarding freedom of worship on the Temple Mount,” the statement read. “Regarding the specific criminal case being discussed, the state has informed the government that it will appeal the decision in the district court.”

Why?

Why do Iranian threats not move Israel, while threats of hellfire over changes at the Temple Mount do?

First, unlike the situation with Iran where Israel believes that its actions against Iran are necessary for its security interests, when it comes to the Temple Mount, there is no consensus that Jews praying there now is good or essential for the country.

If the country does not deem something vital, then it is not going to risk seeing if there is anything behind those making threats if a particular line of action is followed. Israel has shown that it believes striking Iranian targets is vital and is willing to do so despite the threats, whereas it does not believe that praying on the Temple Mount is in the same category, and thereby not worth risking to see if there is anything behind the threats.

Part of this has to do with a prohibition in Jewish law against Jews going to the site that was widely accepted in the first couple of decades after the Six-Day War when Israel first gained control of the area, though in recent years that prohibition has been questioned by growing segments of the religious-Zionist public.

The second reason for the dichotomy is that Israel apparently does not believe it has an antidote to deal with a religious war triggered by Islamic furor over something having to do with al-Aqsa Mosque.

Israel is not spooked by Iranian threats, because it feels it can deal with them. It is, however, frightened by threats of a global jihad over al-Aqsa, because of the uncertainty of how exactly it would beat that back.