Bahrain postpones plans to host Israeli FM, hours after Ben Gvir tours Temple Mount

Official justification given by Manama is scheduling conflict, but official says far-right minister’s visit to flashpoint site was actual reason

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Jews pray at the entrance to the flashpoint Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City, during Tisha B'Av, on July 27, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Jews pray at the entrance to the flashpoint Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City, during Tisha B'Av, on July 27, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Bahrain informed Israel on Thursday that it was postponing plans to host Foreign Minister Eli Cohen next week, hours after far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir paid a visit to the flashpoint Temple Mount, sparking condemnations from much of the Arab world.

The official reason Bahrain gave for the postponement was a scheduling conflict, but an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Friday that it is believed Ben Gvir’s Temple Mount visit was the true reason behind the decision.

This wasn’t the first time a visit by Ben Gvir to the Temple Mount led to blowback from Israel’s Gulf allies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was slated to visit the United Arab Emirates in January, but Abu Dhabi withdrew its invitation after what it called “provocative” action by Ben Gvir, who also visited the Mount that month. Officials familiar said the decision to cancel that visit also had to do with concerns that Netanyahu would use it to make public statements against Iran on Emirati soil. The invite has yet to be re-extended.

The policies of Netanyahu’s government toward the Palestinians have also led Morocco to repeatedly delay plans to host the regional forum where Israel, the US and their Middle East allies aim to advance regional projects in a variety of fields.

Israel has worked to patch things up with Morocco, recognizing its sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region last week, which led Rabat to extend an invitation for Netanyahu to visit the kingdom.

Police said they arrested 16 Jewish visitors and two Arabs over disturbances at the Temple Mount shortly after Ben Gvir’s visit Friday, which sparked a brief altercation at the site.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tours the Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av, July 27, 2023. (Temple Mount Administration)

Negev and Galilee Development Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf, a member of Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party, and Likud MK Amit Halevi also ascended the Mount shortly thereafter to mark Tisha B’Av under tight security. The politicians’ visits passed without incident.

The visits prompted condemnations from Jordan, the UAE, Turkey the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the United States.

“We are concerned by today’s visit to Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem,” State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said.

“We reaffirm our longstanding US position in support of the historic status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, and we underline Jordan’s special role in Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Any unilateral action or rhetoric that deviates or jeopardizes the status quo is completely unacceptable.”

Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. However, it has allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the Mount.

The site is considered the holiest in Judaism, as the location of two biblical temples, while the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Mount is the third-holiest shrine in Islam, turning the area into a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Under the status quo, an arrangement that has prevailed for decades in cooperation with Jordan, Jews and other non-Muslims are permitted to visit the Temple Mount during certain hours but may not pray there.

In recent years, Jewish religious nationalists, including members of the new governing coalition, have increasingly visited the site and demanded equal prayer rights for Jews there, infuriating the Palestinians and Muslims around the world.

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