Hamas and extremist Palestinian forces are trying to escalate the situation on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, with the aim of having it develop into an all-out conflict with Israel, Eyal Hulata, head of the National Security Council, said on Thursday.
“There are constant efforts by Hamas and others to escalate and create a narrative that al-Aqsa is in danger and to turn Jerusalem into an explosive detonator,” Hulata said at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in Herzliya.
“There are constant efforts by Hamas and others to escalate and create a narrative that al-Aqsa is in danger and to turn Jerusalem into an explosive detonator,”Eyal Hulata, head of the National Security Council
“Israel has not changed its policy on the Temple Mount, and does not want to change its policy on the Temple Mount,” he said. “We are in a very sensitive time, before the holidays and the election. These things have a great influence.”
His words referenced the status quo understanding by which Jews may visit Judaism's holiest site, but only Muslims may pray at the al-Aksa mosque located on the historic hilltop which is the third holiest religious site in Islam.
Right-wing activists have pushed back at the status quo restrictions, with an increasing number of Jews unofficially heading to the site to pray.
The right-wing NGO Beyadenu – Returning to the Temple Mount reported on Thursday that there was a 95% increase in the number of Jewish worshippers praying there, from 25,582 in 2021 to 50,000 this year.
The Palestinian Authority's role in preventing terrorism
The Temple Mount is only one tension point. Referring to the rise in violence in the West Bank in 2022, Hulata – who functions as Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s national security adviser – accused Palestinian Authority security forces of not functioning as they previously did, and that Israel was therefore required to operate in places like northern Samaria to combat terrorist infrastructure.
“We want the PA to act in a determined fashion to thwart terror activity,” Hulata said. “It has a responsibility to do so. During periods when the PA did so, then Israel was not forced to engage in such a wide-ranging activity to foil it on its own.”
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi has placed the blame for the increased violence on the weakening PA. The Palestinians have blamed Israel.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, called on the US to intervene to stop Israeli aggression.
“The US administration must pressure the Israeli government to stop its aggression, rather than look to justify Israel’s crimes while holding the Palestinian Authority responsible,” said the spokesman.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides told Kan Radio that all sides had a role in the situation.
“Everyone should do more,” Nides said. “Violence is violence. We want everyone to do more, we want the Palestinian Authority to do more, the Palestinian security forces to do more to prevent it. Obviously, we want the IDF to do their job, to make sure they keep things secure as well as making sure that innocent people do not get killed.”
“Violence is violence. We want everyone to do more, we want the Palestinian Authority to do more, the Palestinian security forces to do more to prevent it. Obviously, we want the IDF to do their job, to make sure they keep things secure as well as making sure that innocent people do not get killed.”Tom Nides
The IDF has said that while it continues to make moves to strengthen the PA, both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Biden administration need to understand the situation in the West Bank. If the PA is unable to exert control over its population and reign in terrorists, the IDF will continue to act inside West Bank cities.
What does the IDF do to combat terror in the West Bank
Hulata and Kochavi spoke as Israel is in the midst of an intense anti-terror operation in the West Bank, known as Break the Wave, which began on March 31 after a spate of terror attacks claimed 11 lives in eight days. Eight more lives have been lost in Palestinian terror attacks since the start of the operation.
Last week, seven Israelis were injured in a Palestinian shooting attack against a bus in the Jordan Valley and a terror attack was thwarted in Tel Aviv.
Tensions have spiked in the area in recent weeks, as the IDF has increased its pressure on the northern West Bank. There have been nightly arrest raids and other counter-terror efforts, including continued work on closing the Seam Line to prevent Palestinians from illegally crossing into Israel.
The Israeli military has focused Operation Break the Wave on the northern West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus, where the majority of terror attacks have originated. Violent clashes, many times with heavy gunfire leveled at forces, are becoming an almost regular occurrence during the raids, which have led to 1,500 arrests.
“If we were not inside the [Palestinian] cities, there would be terrorism outside the cities,” Hulata said.
According to the military, the IDF has thwarted 550 terror attacks over the past two months. Shin Bet Chief Ronen Bar said on Wednesday that the security agency has foiled over 300 significant terror attacks this past year, including shootings and suicide attacks.
The military said that while the last deadly terror attack inside Israel was on the evening of Independence Day, when two Palestinians killed three Israeli civilians in the city of Elad, Operation Break the Wave will continue as long as necessary in order to prevent future attacks.
The IDF moves and other clashes in the West Bank have taken its toll on Palestinians. The UN reported 69 Palestinian deaths at the hands of Israeli security forces as of the end of August, almost all from live fire. Included in that number are terrorists and Palestinian combatants.
On Wednesday, the West Bank violence took its toll on the IDF with the fatal shooting of Maj. Bar Falah, who was trying to neutralize two Palestinian terrorists that morning.
The IDF is investigating whether mistakes were made by the troops, including by Falah. Both he and the head of the Menashe Brigade, Col. Arik Moyal, were deployed to the area where the two suspects had been identified. A Zik drone was rushed to the area but was not used. The suspects were not initially identified as being armed, and opened fire on the IDF force, fatally wounding Falah.
Following a preliminary investigation, the military is looking at whether the force in the field received a full operational picture. The IDF said Falah and Moyal were at the front of the force taking part in the incident, showing that soldiers and officers have a strong sense of protecting the state.
On Thursday morning, Israeli security forces led by troops from Falah’s Nahal reconnaissance battalion carried out operations in Kafr Dan in the northern West Bank, the hometown of the two terrorists involved in the deadly shootout.
The forces mapped the terrorists’ houses in preparation for demolition and arrested two relatives of one of the terrorists.
During the operation, clashes broke out and a Palestinian who threw a Molotov cocktail was killed. According to Wafa Palestinian News Agency, 17-year-old Udai Salah had been shot in the head and killed. Three others were injured.
Haluta underscored that "the IDF's task is to be a first defensive wall to protect to protect citizens."
Reuters contributed to this report.