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The Media Line: Ben-Gvir’s Temple Mount Visit Puts Israel’s Arab Allies in Tight Spot, Analysts Warn

Ben-Gvir’s Temple Mount Visit Puts Israel’s Arab Allies in Tight Spot, Analysts Warn

Government minister’s quick jaunt around the site holy to both Jews and Muslims provides easy fodder for Israel’s enemies, according to ex-intelligence official

By Maya Margit/The Media Line

A far-right Israeli government minister’s recent visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem could spell the beginning of trouble for Israel’s ties with its new Arab allies in the region, political analysts have cautioned.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, who heads the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party and who was recently appointed minister of National Security, visited the Temple Mount on Tuesday, sparking international condemnation and widespread criticism from other countries, including Abraham Accords signatories such as the United Arab Emirates. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest place for Muslims, who call it Haram al-Sharif.

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been scheduled to visit the UAE next week, but the trip was postponed until February, according to Hebrew media reports. The delay comes on the heels of the Gulf state’s condemnation of Ben-Gvir’s Temple Mount visit, although it is unclear if the two incidents are connected.

Avi Melamed, a senior Arab affairs adviser and former Israeli intelligence official, told The Media Line that Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount is counterproductive to Israel’s strategic and security interests.

“The visit plays into the hands of those opposing normalization, and those criticizing Israel’s allies in the region, and provides the perfect distraction for Iran at a time when it is trying to divert world attention from its brutal suppression of domestic protesters,” asserted Melamed, who founded the Inside the Middle East think tank.

“For the Palestinian Authority, already going through its own power struggle, the trip – seen as a provocation by Israelis against the Muslim control over the Al-Aqsa compound – is inflaming tensions with both moderate and more radical Palestinians who criticize the PA’s strategic choice of diplomacy over armed conflict and what they perceive as a loss of the power to deter Israeli provocations through the threat of violence.”

Melamed added that the visit has many in Israel and abroad questioning Netanyahu’s ability to rein in the more far-right elements within his ruling government coalition.

Other political analysts were not as steadfast about the incident having any concrete ramifications.

Dr. Brandon Friedman, senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, told The Media Line that it is too early to say if Ben-Gvir’s visit would have any lasting repercussions and that Netanyahu would likely try to play down any similar recurrences.

“I think the government will try to project a ‘business as usual’ approach to these episodes, if in fact they continue regularly,” Friedman predicted. “The question is whether there will just be rhetorical sound and fury and diplomatic demarches in response, or whether there will be practical consequences that disturb growing ties in a number of important, even strategic, areas, or maybe even both. But I think we will have to wait and see.”

Meanwhile, a Foreign Ministry official told The Media Line that Israel is committed to the status quo on the Temple Mount and freedom of worship in Jerusalem.

“The visit of Minister Ben-Gvir on the Temple Mount was not a violation of the status quo,” said the official, who asked to remain unnamed. “There were in the past other visits from ministers on the Temple Mount since it’s part of Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem.”

 

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