Terror attack at the Temple Mount Compound: Regional Reactions

On Friday July 14, 2017, three Israeli-Arabs opened fire on Israeli Border Patrol Police securing the Temple Mount Compound in Jerusalem, called Al-Haram Al-Sharif by Muslims, and Har Ha-Bayit by Jews.

All the attackers and two Israeli Border Patrol Police were killed, and another policeman was injured.

The attackers were Israeli-Arab citizens from the town of Umm Al-Fahm, located in central Israel. The three reportedly had no criminal or terror records.

Following the Friday attack, Israel closed the Temple Mount and barred all access to the compound. Israel announced that the Temple Mount will be opening again gradually beginning on July 16, 2017.

At the time this report is being published (48 hours after the event), it is yet unclear if the attack was guided by a terror group. Unconfirmed information provided by one source associates the Islamic Jihad in Palestine (IJIP) with the attack.

Analysis and Evaluation (Highlights)

Israeli-Arab Arena:

The perpetrators of the attack in the Temple Mount Compound who came from Umm Al Fahm were possibly motivated by three major reasons:

  • The strong presence and influence of the Islamic Movement – Northern Branch in Umm Al Fahm. The Islamic Movement – Northern Branch identifies with Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood ideology. Its leader Sheikh Raed Salah leads a vigorous anti-Israel line. (Due to its extremist ideology, the organization was outlawed by the Israeli government in November 2015.) A major theme of The Islamic Movement – Northern Branch’s propaganda is the narrative that the Al-Haram Al-Sharif is in danger because of alleged Israeli plans to erase the Islamic symbols and heritage of the site. Though groundless, this narrative has a very receptive audience among Israeli-Arabs.
  • Influence of the Salafi-Jihadi terror ideology. Though rejected by the majority of Israeli-Arabs, Salafi-Jihadi ideology appeals to some Israeli-Arabs. The Israeli Security Agency (ISA) known as Shabak has exposed attempts of Israeli-Arabs to form terror cells inspired by Salafi-Jihadi ideology
  • Information in our possession suggests that some relatives of the attackers were killed in October 2000 during a wave of violent incidents between Israeli-Arabs and Israeli police. It is possible that the attackers were also motivated by feelings of revenge.

Regional Arena:

In the divided Arab world, ending Israel’s rule on the Al-Haram Al-Sharif is one of the few consensual narratives.

Traditionally, the slogan of “Free Occupied Haram Al-Sharif” has been a powerful slogan, deeply rooted emotionally among the Muslim masses, and present in the educational system, intellectual discussions, and in the political discourse.

Therefore, one could assume that such a serious incident on Al-Haram Al-Sharif should spark a strong and furious reaction both on the official, as well as the street level, in the Arab and Muslim world.

However, that is not exactly the picture.

By large, the reactions on the part of the Arab States and Rulers to the event can be characterized as mild.

Reaction in the two major Arab states – Egypt and Saudi Arabia – are far from being furious or fiery.

Other Arab states such as Jordan and Lebanon, as well as the Palestinian Authority have reacted similarly.

And Turkey’s reaction, a Muslim Sunni, yet not Arab state – has not been much different.

More than that – the official reactions of the King of Jordan, the Palestinian President, and Egypt included “a condemnation of violence”.

The mild reaction can be attributed to the changing agenda and priorities of the Arab states, and of Turkey, in the shadow of the dramatic changes the Middle East has been going through since late 2010, with the outbreak of the what is known as the Arab Spring.

Three major issues are the top priorities of major Arab states today:

  • Addressing domestic economic and social challenges
  • Confronting Islam Militant terror
  • Blocking the aggressive Iranian expansion.

The mild reactions also reflect the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer a top priority on the agenda of Arab societies and politicians.

Another reason for the mild reaction of the Arab states is the new line led by the Trump administration emphasizing the need for Arab states and the Muslim world to join forces in a decisive battle against Islamist terrorism. As Arab states themselves struggle daily Islamist terror attacks, Arab leaders cannot refer to the attack in a way that may be viewed as if they justify the attack – let alone support the attack.

The Palestinian Arena:

Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud ‘Abbas rushed to condemn the attack.

That position can be attributed to the fact that his interest — similar to the Arab states leaders — is to contain the event and not let it evoke violence. Violence in the Palestinian arena will play to the hands of the PA’s bitter rivals – Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Palestine (IJIP).

‘Abbas also wants to make it clear that he is complying with the new tune set by the Trump administration regarding the battle on Islamic terror.

Not surprisingly, the two major Palestinian Islamic terror groups – Hamas and IJIP – praise the attack as a heroic sacrifice, and incite Palestinians to attack Israelis and to generate violence. That position reflects these factors’ extreme ideology – and also serves their political interests.

Prediction:

The line of the mild response adopted by Arab states, Governments and Rulers will likely continue.

Expressions of the venting emotions in the form of public protests, demonstrations, etc. are likely to take place in different Arab states, in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, and in the Gaza Strip.

However, in my evaluation, the protests will not spin out of control and will not evoke serious violence.

The relations between Israeli-Jews and Israeli-Arabs will continue to be on a spectrum spanning from dialogue and coexistence on one edge to tensions and anxiety on the other edge. The existing mechanism of dialogue and channels of communication will likely enable both communities to contain the current tension and prevent further deterioration.

It is possible this incident will inspire Salafi-Jihadi groups operating in areas in proximity to Israel – the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, South Lebanon, the Sinai Peninsula – to launch some kind of attacks in the near future on Israeli targets – either through launching rockets, and / or assaults on Israeli military forces or communities near the borders.

About the Author
Avi Melamed is a Strategic Intelligence Analyst and an Expert on the Current Affairs in the Arab and Muslim World and their impact on the Middle East. He is the Founder and CEO of Inside the Middle East: Intelligence Perspectives (ITME), an empowering intelligence analysis praxis transforming students and practitioners into knowledgeable, media literate, critical thinkers. ITME’s goal is to ensure that the next generation of policy influencers will have be equipped with the knowledge, skills and tools to independently and accurately decipher the Middle East and accurately predict the direction of future events. He is a former Israeli Intelligence Official and Senior Official on Arab Affairs. In his public service, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities and communities throughout the region – often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. His newest book, Inside the Middle East: Making Sense of the Most Dangerous and Complicated Region on Earth, (also available as an audio book) – a GPS to help you navigate the dramatically changing Middle East, offers a unique insight into the Arab world, challenges widely-accepted perceptions, provides a guide to make sense of the events unfolding in the region, and offers an out of the box idea that could lead to a positive breakthrough in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides intelligence analysis, briefings and tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policy makers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs. An Israeli Jew, fluent in Arabic, English and Hebrew, with a unique understanding of Arab society and culture, Avi has his finger on the pulse on the Arab world. He has a proven record of foreseeing the evolution of events in the Middle East and their impact on a local and regional level. Through all of his efforts, as an analyst, educator, entrepreneur, and writer, he is a bridge builder, and dedicates himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other. www.avimelamed.com @AviMelamed
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