Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Tuesday urged Israeli Jews not to visit the Temple Mount for the time being, to avoid further inflaming what he called the current “escalation” in hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians and between Jews and Arabs in Israel. He said Israel was braced for a further surge in violence, but was determined to do its best to prevent that.
Declining to label the ongoing wave of violence an intifada, he nonetheless urged Israel to be on the alert for further terror attacks, a day after two Israelis were killed in two separate attacks — IDF soldier Almog Shiloni in a Tel Aviv stabbing, and Dalia Lemkus in a car-ramming/stabbing attack outside Alon Shvut in the West Bank’s Etzion Bloc of settlements.
“We’re in the midst of an escalation, and won’t allow it to widen,” Ya’alon promised, speaking to reporters during a visit to the Etzion Bloc. “We’ve reinforced our deployment…. We’re making more arrests. We’ll use a strong arm, including demolishing terrorists’ houses.”
While Hamas and other Islamist groups were deliberately stoking tensions, he said, the Palestinian Authority was working in contradictory ways. “We’re coordinating with the PA (in the field), but the rhetoric of the PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has contributed to the escalation — on the issue of Temple Mount,” Ya’alon said. “If the PA wants to calm things down, it should. We’re certainly trying to do so.”
Added Ya’alon: “When an attack succeeds, it prompts copycat acts — whether it’s a car-ramming attack or a stabbing attack.” He noted that it was “difficult to prevent the lone attacks” of recent days — those perpetrated by Palestinians on their own initiative, not as a terror group-ordered assault. “But they begin with incitement over issues such as the Temple Mount. All the recent attacks were prompted in part by incitement. So that has to be dealt with. We also need better enforcement to prevent illegal entry to Israel… We’re placing more concrete blocks (at bus stops and other targets). Yesterday’s West Bank attack was thwarted initially by a concrete block.”
Ya’alon urged citizens to “be on the alert. Not to wait in the road. To stand behind the concrete blocks at bus stops.”
The defense minister said he, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior politicians were doing their best to defuse tensions over the issue of the Temple Mount, where Israel’s leaders have made clear they do not intend to change the status quo to allow Jewish prayer. “We’re discouraging visits to the Temple Mount,” he said, noting that while visits by Jews are not disallowed, Israel should refrain from supplying pretexts “for those on the other side” to stir up trouble over the issue.
“The Temple Mount was always a sensitive site. It has been the focus of previous escalations,” he noted. “I remind you of 2000,” when the Second Intifada started after a visit to the site by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon.
Asked if he would define the current situation as an intifada, Ya’alon said: “I didn’t call the Second Intifada an intifada. It was a terror war of suicide bombers.” Right now, Israel was grappling with “an escalation… In Judea and Samaria today, we don’t see the masses taking to the streets… This is mainly lone attackers. Let’s wait to see what we call it.”
Asked about reports of a Palestinian shot dead in the Hebron area after aiming an improvised weapon at IDF troops, Ya’alon said: “Whoever tries to hurt IDF soldiers, soldiers have to stop them.”