The Temple Mount Crisis — A Tactical Failure, Not a Strategic Defeat-Pt.2

The King of Jordan just finished a visit in Ramallah, the Capital of the Palestinian Authority[PA], and it all was so irrelevant, marginal and amazingly brief-just two hours. The alleged ”winners” of the latest Temple Mount crisis were expected to celebrate their great ”victory”, in the best Arab tradition,with a lot of fun fare, but it all seemed as a provincial party, far from the real main arena of the big events. The two leaders, Abdallah and Abbas knew, that the glory of last week events was short lived , past news which could not overshadow the importance of much bigger events in the region, and it is not Temple Mount and the Palestinian issue which is on top, rather it is Iran, the Shi’ite challenge to Sunni supremacy, in short, the need to deal with Iranian expansionism.The Arab world did not want the Temple Mount crisis to detract attention from these issues, and so, the initial intention of both the PA and Hamas to set the entire region on fire, to turn the Palestinian issue into the forefront of Arab and Muslim attention, to start a Holy War against Israel, simply failed. Partly because Israel helped defusing the situation with its decision to restore the Status Quo , but most importantly, because Arab countries have more urgent interests than the Palestinians, and as part of these interests, their calculus include a role for Israel as their helper against Iran, not the regional spoiler, which is how they view Iran, not Israel.

Jordan is in this context different than Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf States, so the King played a destructive role in the overall situation, something which was analyzed in the first part of this article, but the visit in Ramallah indicates, that the Hashimite King is not ready to break the rules of the game, though the Embassy crisis with Israel is still on, and may take time to resolv, and Israel cannot exempt itself from the need to engage in a process of reevaluation of the overall nature of the relations with Jordan. Jordan though, much to the dismay of the Hashimite King, is a minor player in regional affairs, and even more to the dismay of Abbas, so is the case with the PA, and it is also the case with the Bosphoros megalomaniac, Mr. Erdohan, who worked extra time to add patrol to the fire, but for no avail.Turkey is clearly important, but not as Erdohan wants it to be. The new Saudi actual ruler , Prince Salman, the Saudi Satellites in the Gulf and Egypt started their own show, the Qatar show, which is in fact the Iran show. Qatar is the immediate target of the Arab world, but it is Iran which is the strategic target, and the crippling fear about the creation of the Shi’ite crescent in the Middle East. Iran is where the connection is between Israel and most of the Sunni states of the Middle East, and that is where the analysis of the implications of the Temple Mount crisis cannot be focused only on the sense of Israeli caving in to pressures and consequently showing weakness.

It is much more a sense of Israeli self-image , rather than an Arab perceptions of Israel, and it is so, for two main reasons-first, an Israeli obsession with the concept of deterrence , second-domestic Israeli political considerations and their repercussions. The first problem in short , is the unrealistic Israeli sense, that the Arab world is tensely watching every Israeli move with a view to decide if these moves make Israel more or less vulnerable to the next Arab war of extermination against the ”ZIONISTS”. The bad news is, that there are many Arabs who dream about this war , but the better news are , that it has not been the expectation, nor the policy of the important Arab states, and those like Iraq and Syria , which rhetorically at least, talked in these terms, are failing, crumbling states. Iran is another story, and they DO think of and want to destroy Israel, but they also want to do the same to Saudi Arabia , for example, and here , like on many other issues, the enemy of my enemy can be my friend, and it seems, that in Saudi Arabia and in Egypt, they have a better sense , much more realistic one, of Israel’s capabilities , than the metal detectors issue, which was perceived by them as a trivial, local issue. From their perspective therefore, Israel is not to be measured in the context of such an incident. Sure enough, there is the Israeli domestic arena, where the hawks of Likud and Bennett and CO from the Right, and many former generals and the Labor leadership from the Left, are also obsessed with the need to describe Israeli ”weakness” as a means of undermining the current Netanyahu government. The same forces were in display after the Lebanese war of 2006, while Nasrallah himself said, that had he known what would happen, he would have acted differently. Another example, more remote in time, was the right decision by PM Shamir NOT to respond to the Saddam Scad missiles in 1991.

For obvious , though contrasting political interests, both Right and Left in Israel, tend to over dramatize every security crisis in a way which put into question the image and reality of Israel as an important and strong regional actor-how lucky we are , that many Arabs do not believe them, and still do not, also after the recent crisis.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina