OpinionIsrael at War

Israel’s Ramadan dilemmas

Hamas would like to see Israeli forces storming into the Al-Aqsa mosque, hoping it would lead to a regional conflagration.

Muslims protest on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during Ramadan, April 15, 2022. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Muslims protest on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during Ramadan, April 15, 2022. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Arik Barbing. Credit: Gov.il.
Arik Barbing
Arik Barbing is the former head of the Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria sector in the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet).

The month of Ramadan is always a sensitive period for security officials. This year it has to be handled with even more care because Israel has to contend with four arenas bubbling up with pressure all at once—the war against Hamas in Gaza; the heightened tension in Judea and Samaria; the attempts to inflame Israeli Arabs; and the ongoing clash with the Biden administration.

The decision not to prevent Arabs who are Israeli citizens and Arab residents of Jerusalem from joining the Temple Mount prayers in a sweeping manner has major importance.

In recent years, riots have typically erupted during Ramadan, especially in the second half of the month, led by Hamas-affiliated radical youth from eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, as well as “lone-wolf” terrorists mostly coming into the Old City, young people who smuggle fireworks, Molotov cocktails and even pipes filled with explosive powder resembling bombs onto the Temple Mount before Ramadan, sleep in the mosque and barricade themselves inside. This quickly descends into a confrontation with the police.

The main mission of the Israel Police on the Temple Mount is to prevent rioters from throwing stones or other dangerous objects towards the Western Wall, which could lead to the evacuation of Jewish worshippers from the compound. Extreme Islamic elements, certainly Hamas, would love to see this happen, as this could be cast as a “victory image.”

The storming of the mosque

The Israel Police has extensive experience dealing with events of this type. It is clear to anyone engaged in this task that images and videos of police officers stepping on prayer rugs and confronting those inside Al-Aqsa mosque, broadcast live to the Arab world, would increase tensions and provoke much condemnation.

Hamas would like to see Israeli forces storming into the mosque, hoping this would lead to a regional conflagration; thus, such a move must be an absolute last resort.

Storming the mosque would not be a tactical event; it would have broad strategic political and security implications. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that such a move would have to be first cleared by him, underscoring the gravity of the matter.

In the current situation, there is no other choice. Events on the Temple Mount have a direct bearing on what happens in the Gaza Strip, with the discourse on a possible IDF operation in Rafah in the background.

The operation in Rafah

Maintaining pressure on Hamas, by destroying both its military and civilian dispositions, while eliminating its political, religious and civilian leadership, requires the IDF to take aggressive action in Rafah. It must conquer and mop up the area, and target hundreds or even thousands of terrorists hiding in buildings, mosques and educational and medical facilities, and deal with the most difficult component—the underground tunnel system.

The main working assumption is that Hamas operatives in Rafah have already shed their identifying marks and are hiding among a supportive population, armed and not hesitating to use civilians as human shields.

IDF soldiers must not be put in harm’s way unnecessarily. Likewise, to minimize harm to Palestinian civilians as much as possible, it is crucial that they be allowed out of combat zones. But it is also worth remembering that with the terrorists being embedded within the population, the inability to definitively distinguish between noncombatants and terrorists adds to the complexity.

The critical question

Another issue is the pier that the U.S. is establishing on the Gaza coast and the question of who will receive the humanitarian relief that is intended for the civilian population.

The most complex and dangerous way forward would be to allow clans or large families to manage the distribution of food. On the other hand, officials in the Palestinian Authority will also not be able to do so at this stage. Hamas is deeply embedded in the area, and it will threaten and even harm any entity that operates in its place.

Therefore, a combination of forces from Arab countries and Gazan civilians, as well as Israeli military intervention, will be required. This constellation, of course, is not a solution for the “day after” the war, which is the most critical aspect as Israel seeks a stable civilian governing authority to replace Hamas.

Arik Barbing is the former head of the Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria sector in the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet).

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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