OpinionMiddle East

Why do Iran and Hezbollah crave Jerusalem?

As far as the Shi’ites are concerned, “saving Al-Aqsa” is a political slogan, not a religious value.

The Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Jan. 3, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Jan. 3, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Pinhas Inbar (JCPA)
Pinhas Inbari
Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper. He currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

“Save the Al-Aqsa Mosque!” is the battle cry of radical Islam and is featured in all the war slogans of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Even Muslim Brotherhood supporter Turkish President Erdogan wishes to wrest away Israel’s control of the Temple Mount. As for Hezbollah and Iran, this passion for Jerusalem is puzzling because the Shi’ite religion does not attribute any significance to Jerusalem.

Anyone walking through the alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City will not find a trace of Shi’ite history. According to the Shi’ite book of traditions “Bihar al-Anwar,” “Seas of Lights,” the Prophet Muhammad forbade pilgrimages to Jerusalem, allowing them only to Kufah (in Iraq), which was to become a Shi’ite religious center. Even the Isra (night journey), according to the Shi’ite religion, did not involve Jerusalem but rather a “distant mosque” in Heaven. The Mi’raj is a ladder on which the Prophet climbed to the upper heavens. There is no mention of Buraq, the miraculous winged horse of the Sunna that brought the Prophet to the Temple Mount.

So why do Iran and Hezbollah put Al-Aqsa on the top of their agenda? After the bloody Sunni-Shi’ite war between Iraq and Iran, the ayatollahs decided to emphasize the liberation of Jerusalem so that the Sunnis would look west to Jerusalem and not east to Tehran. As far as the Shi’ites are concerned, “saving Al-Aqsa” is a political slogan, not a religious value.

In the growing tension within the Arab world between moderate Sunnis and Iran, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, a unity of interests is being created between Israel and the moderate Sunni world, i.e., Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Egypt, and so on. It should be noted that Egypt and Morocco, which previously had ambitions about the Jerusalem mosques, withdrew from the Mount. Morocco, formally the head of the Arab League’s Committee for Jerusalem, has lost interest and is no longer involved in Jerusalem affairs as in the past.

What remains of the tensions in the moderate Sunni world is the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Jordan, since the two kingdoms bear the crown of “Guardian of the Holy Places”—Saudi Arabia in Mecca and Medina and the Hashemites in Jerusalem. The question of Jerusalem is, therefore, the question of the legitimacy of the House of Saud versus the House of Hashem, which was the guardian of the holy sites in Mecca before the Saudis expelled them at the beginning of the last century.

How does this relate to Israel? At this historic crossroads, moderate Sunni forces see Israel as the only force that can curb the extremists’ efforts to turn the “liberation of Al-Aqsa” into an engine for the Shi’ite takeover of the Arab and Muslim world.

Because of the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Jordan, it is impossible to agree on an inter-Arab force that can replace Israel as the force defending the mosques. Jordanian and the Waqf’s acquiescence to Israeli police presence on the Temple Mount is a cornerstone of the status quo on the Mount.

But, as Spiderman said in his famous films, with great power comes great responsibility. History has presented the Jewish state with an opportunity to protect major mosques of Islam, and this requires a degree of responsibility befitting this unprecedented role.

Originally published by The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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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