Gallant: Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas hope to turn Ramadan into ‘2nd stage of October 7’

In apparent jab at Ben Gvir, defense minister warns against ‘irresponsible statements,’ as police minister seeks unprecedented restrictions on Arab Israelis at Temple Mount

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks with commanders at the Central Command HQ near Jerusalem, February 27, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks with commanders at the Central Command HQ near Jerusalem, February 27, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday Israel has identified that Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are aiming to take advantage of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and turn it into “the second stage of October 7, and ignite the ground.”

Speaking during an assessment at the IDF Central Command, Gallant said, “Hamas’s main goal is to take Ramadan, with an emphasis on the Temple Mount and Jerusalem, and turn it into the second phase of their plan that began on October 7. This is the main goal of Hamas, it is being amplified by Iran and Hezbollah.”

“We must not give Hamas what it has not been able to achieve since the beginning of the war and converge the combat fronts,” Gallant warned.

Hamas called its mass-murdering October 7 onslaught on southern Israel “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood,” in an effort to claim religious legitimacy for its atrocities.

Announcing the brutal incursion, Mohammad Deif, the Hamas military commander, urged Arabs in Jerusalem and inside Israel, the Negev, the Galilee and northern Israel to “set the earth on fire under the feet of the occupiers” — a call that has so far remained unanswered by Arab Israelis.

In comments apparently aimed at far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Gallant warned against “irresponsible statements from people who are supposed to be responsible” that could result in an escalation within a short time.

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

Ben Gvir has sought to impose restrictions on West Bank Palestinians and prevent them from praying at the Temple Mount during Ramadan, and is even reportedly pushing for banning Arab Israeli citizens below the age of 70 from visiting the site amid the month of fasting. Netanyahu was said to have sided with Ben Gvir on the issue last week.

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, is considered the holiest place in Judaism, where two biblical Temples once stood, and the third-holiest site in Islam, making it a central flashpoint of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims crowd the site each Ramadan as religious fervor is heightened. While Israel has imposed restrictions on Palestinian access during times of heightened security tensions, it has refrained from imposing those rules on the country’s Muslim minority.

With Ramadan set to begin the second week of March, Israeli officials have expressed worries that the sensitive period could amplify tensions stemming from Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which has sparked worldwide Muslim anger toward the Jewish state.

Last week, Shin Bet director Ronen Bar reportedly warned that the curbs could spark an angry backlash among Arab Israelis and play into the hands of Hamas, while Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara was said to raise legal objections to the measure.

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Wednesday the war cabinet was united in only seeking restrictions on specific individuals who are deemed dangerous, and “not on those who come to pray.” He added that Arab Israelis “are an integral part of Israeli society” who must enjoy equal rights.

Earlier this month, a US official and an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the Biden administration is highly concerned that Ben Gvir will try and spark tensions at the Temple Mount during Ramadan next month, in what Washington fears could drag the flashpoint issue of Jerusalem into the ongoing Middle East conflict that it’s seeking to contain.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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