Compromise weighed to remove Temple Mount metal detectors

An American-proposed solution would have security forces use hand-held detectors at entrances to compound, but only for those deemed suspicious

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

A Muslim worshiper enters the Temple Mount compound on July 18, 2017. (Israel Police)
A Muslim worshiper enters the Temple Mount compound on July 18, 2017. (Israel Police)

A US-brokered compromise has been offered to end the tense standoff over the use of metal detectors at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem, but Israeli security officials have yet to agree to its implementation.

According to both Palestinian and Israeli sources, the standing metal detector gates will be cleared from the holy site as demanded by Jordanian and Palestinian clerics. Instead, police will use hand-held metal detector wands (similar to those employed by security guards at Israeli malls), but only on those deemed to be suspicious.

The selective examinations would be similar to the profiling conducted by security at Ben Gurion Airport, sources said.

The American administration is behind the idea, which was raised in talks between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jordanians, sources said.

The proposed solution, which is said to be viewed positively among many in Israel’s security establishment, is intended to calm an already tense situation that many fear could escalate during Friday afternoon prayers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is travelling in Hungary, held three telephone consultations with his security chiefs, but no decisions were taken, his office said, without referring to any specific steps.

Earlier, Netanyahu told reporters traveling with him that discussions would continue.

“We had a security consolation and no decision was taken. There will be additional security consultations,” he told the traveling press. There have been reported disagreements between the Shin Bet and the police over the issue. Netanyahu said he “listens to them all.”

“We want to solve this crisis in the quietest way possible and to bring back the calm,” Netanyahu said. “We talk with the Arab world and we explain that there is absolutely no change to the status quo” on the holy site.

PM Netanyahu and the leaders of the Visegrad Group -- Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland -- in Budapest, July 19, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)
PM Netanyahu (second from left) and the leaders of the Visegrad Group — Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland — in Budapest, July 19, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

The metal detectors, which were erected after Friday’s deadly shooting attack, constitute “a means to prevent firearms from being brought to the Temple Mount,” he said.

Channel 2 said there was a professional disagreement between Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Israel Police representatives, who wanted to keep the detectors, and the Shin Bet heads who voiced support for their removal to avoid an unnecessary escalation in violence.

In addition to Erdan, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Police Chief Roni Alsheich, head of Shin Bet Nadav Argaman and other senior officials participated in Wednesday morning’s phone conference.

This, after the most senior Muslim clerics of Jerusalem and of the Temple Mount called for the closure of all mosques throughout the city and for all Muslims to converge toward the site on Friday.

Palestinian Muslim worshipers demonstrate next to Lions Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on July 18, 2017.(AFP/ AHMAD GHARABLI)
Palestinian Muslim worshipers demonstrate next to Lions Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 18, 2017.(AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Such an event could lead to violent confrontations with police forces and spill over with protests throughout the West Bank. In recent days, there has been an increase in the number of worshipers at the Lions Gate entrance to the Temple Mount, and tens of thousands are expected to arrive on Friday.

The Temple Mount has reemerged as a flashpoint in recent days, with Muslim protesters holding, at times, violent demonstrations outside of the Old City in protest of Israel’s placement of metal detectors at the site following the terror attack last week in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers guarding one of the entrances.

The metal detectors were part of increased security measures after police said the attackers had stashed their weapons on the Temple Mount and emerged armed from the holy site to open fire on the officers.

Following the terror attack, Israel made the rare move of closing the compound while it searched for more weaponry there, reopening it to Muslims on Sunday and to non-Muslims on Monday.

Israel has said repeatedly it has no plans to change the status quo at the Mount. It has always been responsible for security there, and Friday’s attack necessitated upgraded security, officials said. All visitors to the Western Wall plaza, below the Mount, have long had to pass through metal detectors, as have non-Muslim visitors to the Mount, who gain access via the Mughrabi Gate.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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