Security officials on Wednesday warned that allowing Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir to march through Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate and into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City as part of a nationalist protest could lead to a “second war with Gaza,” according to TV reports.
Channel 12 reported that during security consultations ahead of the unauthorized event, the Shin Bet urged Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other Israeli leaders present to bar the far-right lawmaker from the area, calling him a “detonator” of further tensions. Bennett indeed issued a ban on Ben Gvir, citing security considerations and fear of loss of life.
“Ben Gvir’s arrival is a detonator, and a detonator must be defused,” a Shin Bet official reportedly said during the meeting. “These provocations could lead to further violence and a ramping up of tensions to the point of setting the whole region in flames.”
A security source told Channel 12 that the firebrand lawmaker’s actions are “playing into the hands of Hamas,” after the terror group said earlier in the day that it had its “finger on the trigger” ahead of the march.
Officials warned that Ben Gvir’s arrival at Damascus Gate could lead to “Operation Guardian of the Wall 2,” the Israeli name for last May’s conflict, with Gaza terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad “being forced” to respond to such an event, the report said.
Bennett subsequently declared that Ben Gvir would be barred from the Damascus Gate area, and the marchers were also prevented from entering the Old City via that route. In contrast to the annual Jerusalem Day flag march, their event Wednesday had been hurriedly organized and was not approved by police.
“Sovereignty and governance, yes; provocations, no,” Bennett reportedly said during the meeting.
Last year’s Jerusalem Day flag march, which was also attended by Ben Gvir, was conducted immediately in the run-up to Hamas firing rockets at Jerusalem, the impetus for an 11-day conflict with Hamas the Israel dubbed “Operation Guardian of the Walls.”
Officials also reportedly said that flaring tensions in Jerusalem could lead to sectarian violence in mixed cities in Israel, just as occurred during the fighting last May, requiring security forces to divert major resources from the fight against terrorism.
Ben Gvir arrived at the march’s starting point on Wednesday but was blocked, along with all the protestors in attendance, from reaching the Damascus Gate by police.
Organizers of the event originally planned to enter the Old City through Damascus Gate directly into the Muslim Quarter, and continue through there to the Western Wall.
Had they been successful, the marchers would have been met head-on by crowds of Muslim worshipers, packed into the Old City in the immediate hours before breaking the Ramadan fast.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said that allowing Ben Gvir to attend the march would risk a “regional conflagration.”
Ben Gvir’s appearance “is a provocation liable to quicken the security deterioration,” he wrote in a Facebook post, noting that he asked Bennett to bar Ben Gvir.
“Just him showing up would endanger the country’s security and force the police, already stretched thin in order to continue to maintain order and security, to shift resources that are unnecessary at this time.”
The march came amid ongoing clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces on the Temple Mount, known as Haram Al-Sharif to Muslims and home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, with both Jordan and the United Arab Emirates having called their Israeli ambassadors for dressing-downs. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called his Israeli counterpart Tuesday to similarly express concern about tensions on Al-Aqsa, which have captured the attention of the Muslim world.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid criticized the march, calling it “a provocation that causes us damage.” He added that “these are radicals who are interested in creating provocations. What they want is for there to be violence and a conflagration that will burn Jerusalem. We won’t allow them to burn Jerusalem for their politics.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, meanwhile, asserted that Israel is safeguarding freedom of religion and the status quo on the Temple Mount, tweeting out messages to that effect in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
“Israel has ensured and will continue to ensure and defend freedom of prayer, the status quo on the Temple Mount and most importantly – the security of all the citizens of the area,” he wrote.
With his message going out just as the army announced a new closure on the West Bank and Gaza for the end of the Passover holiday, Gantz noted that Israel did not extend the restrictions over the holiday’s intermediate days between Sunday and Thursday.
He also joined other leaders in protesting comments from Arab leaders, particularly Jordan’s prime minister, appearing to back violent Palestinian protests.
“I call on the Palestinian leadership and all the region’s leaders to act responsibly to ensure security stability and to expand the civil policy we aim to implement before Eid al-Fitr,” Gantz wrote.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report