Visiting Washington, Shin Bet head warns of Ramadan flare-up with Palestinians

Security agency and IDF warn tensions during Muslim holiday, which coincides with Passover, could lead to escalation, echoing concern raised recently by Biden administration

Head of the Shin Bet security service Ronen Bar leaves his home in Rishpon, central Israel, October 11, 2021. (Flash90)
Head of the Shin Bet security service Ronen Bar leaves his home in Rishpon, central Israel, October 11, 2021. (Flash90)

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar returned Sunday from a several-day trip to Washington, DC, where he met with FBI Director Christopher Wray and discussed various security challenges, two sources familiar with the matter confirmed to The Times of Israel on Sunday.

The trip was Bar’s first known visit to the US since coming into office five months ago.

Bar warned of the possibility of a flare-up with the Palestinians during Ramadan in April, the Ynet news site reported.

The Muslim holy month and the Jewish holiday of Passover overlap this year, and both the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet fear tensions in Jerusalem could escalate as worshipers from both faiths flood the city, the report said.

Friction has been rising across the West Bank over the past few months. December and January saw repeated “lone wolf” attacks, with Palestinians seeking to stab or run over Israelis.

Last week saw a pair of stabbing attacks in Jerusalem’s Old City that left four policemen wounded. And two Jewish Israeli men in their 40s were stabbed separately in a store in a West Bank town near Jerusalem, under near-identical circumstances, the week before.

Palestinian men gather to apply for work permits in Israel, at Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 6, 2021. (Photo by Mahmud hams / AFP)

However, unnamed security officials quoted by Ynet said warnings such as those conveyed by Bar only serve to hype up tensions on the Palestinian side, and contradict intelligence reports regarding the real situation inside the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Regardless, the fears expressed by Bar are not new to the Biden administration, which itself has been pressing Israel in recent months to take steps to lower tensions as the April holidays near.

Following consultations with diplomats and experts on the ground, the Biden administration has identified the confluence of religious holidays in April as a “recipe for disaster in Jerusalem,” a US official told The Times of Israel last month.

With the Gaza frontier remaining relatively calm, Israel last week announced it would issue another 2,000 work permits for Palestinians living in the Hamas-controlled enclave, raising the total number of Gazans working in the country to 12,000.

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, widely known by its acronym COGAT, said the policy change is contingent on continued “security stability” between Israel and Gaza.

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