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Efforts underway to avoid further violence

What’s happened: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke yesterday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Lapid explained Israeli efforts to calm the violence on the Temple Mount, whilst ensuring freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem.

  • Lapid spoke of Israel’s “considered and responsible” efforts in the face of riots by hundreds of Muslim extremists and “the false news spread by extremists who incite fire and violence instead of bringing calm”.
  • In parallel, President Isaac Herzog spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Herzog reassured Erdogan that Israel is protecting everyone’s freedom of worship in Jerusalem, “despite provocations”.
  • In Jordan and the UAE, Israeli diplomats were summoned for meetings at the respective foreign ministries.
  • Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh’s spoke out harshly saying, “I salute every Palestinian and every official in the Waqf who hurls stones at the Zionists”.
  • The UN Security Council met last night for private closed door meeting to discuss the violence in Jerusalem.
  • The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, avoided the blame game, saying: “All efforts to lower tensions should be encouraged, while provocations, spreading of misinformation and incitement to violence should be categorically rejected. Leaders on all sides have a responsibility to reduce tensions, create the conditions for calm and ensure the status quo at the Holy Sites is protected.”

Diplomatic context: In the past President Erdogan has harshly criticised Israel and sided with Hamas. Erdogan’s current position is almost a complete reversal, far friendlier towards Israel.

  • The harsh response from Jordan is being interpreted in Israel as largely for domestic political consumption, with King Abdullah currently in Germany recovering from back surgery.
  • In the meeting at the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, Israel’s deputy ambassador, Sami Abu Janeb, was reprimanded by Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, both of whom are Druze.
  • Jordan’s parliamentary vote to cancel the peace agreement and to recall the Jordanian ambassador from Israel is seen as largely symbolic as it is not within their power to do so.
  • Foreign Minister Lapid and Defence Minister Benny Gantz have both spoken with King Abdullah and other senior Jordanian officials, hoping that they can use their influence within the Islamic Waqf to help reduce tension.
  • Despite the warm Israeli-UAE ties, the Emirati Minister for International Cooperation Reem Ebrahim Al Hashimy summoned Israeli Ambassador Amir Hayek for a formal diplomatic reprimand. Israel also perceived this action due to domestic public opinion and was relieved to a degree that it did not come from a more senior member of their government.
  • Egypt is once again playing a supportive role. It serves as a mediator to Hamas, reinforcing Israel’s message that recent economic relief measures will be cancelled if there are further attacks.

Gaza context: The single rocket fired from Gaza toward southern Israel on Monday was the first one in six months.

  • The Iron Dome system intercepted the rocket fired towards Kibbutz Kissufim. No one was injured and no damage was caused.
  • Hamas denied responsibility. It was most likely Palestinian Islamic Jihad that fired the rocket, but it is not clear if this was a decision by their leadership or a local commander’s decision.
  • Nevertheless, Israel formerly holds Hamas responsible for anything emanating from Gaza. Therefore in response, the Israel Air Force attacked a Hamas weapons workshop.
  • In a calibrated move, the strike was preceded by a warning shot, to ensure the site was empty.
  • In an unusual move, following the strike, Hamas fired a surface-to-air missile at the Israeli planes, but none were hit.
  • Overall, Hamas is seen as leading the incitement in Jerusalem and encouraging attacks from the West Bank, but at this point does not appear to want an escalation from the Gaza Strip.

West Bank context: The Israeli security forces are continuing their counter-terrorism operations across the West Bank. Last night another five terror suspects were apprehended.

  • The IDF is deployed to full capacity. There are usually 11 infantry battalions across the West Bank, but currently there are 24. Soldiers are on patrol at every bus stop, every intersection.
  • Despite the political tension, there is still cooperation between the IDF and the Palestinian security forces, as they have a shared interest at clamping down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
  • The objective is to prevent and intercept anyone planning terror attack. In March there were 160 preventive operations. So far this month there have been over 250.

Israeli Arabs: Concerns over a possible rerun of violent protests like last year remain.

  • So far incidents have been relatively minor. Earlier this week, two young men from Umm el-Fahm were arrested on suspicion of throwing stones at police vehicles and cars on Route 65.
  • In Taibe, on Monday night, people rioted at the entrance to the city. They set tires on fire on Route 444 and waved Palestinian flags. Large police forces restored the peace and no arrests were reported.

Political context:  The United Arab List (UAL/ Raam) suspended their membership in the coalition in wake of the events on the Temple Mount.

  • The move has compounded the political instability following Yamina MK Silman’s defected to the opposition which left the coalition without its majority in the Knesset.
  • There are mixed voices coming out of UAL; party leader Mansour Abbas has tried to reassure his partners that the move was to placate criticism from within Arab society, but it would not have a long-term impact.
  • While the Knesset will remain on recess for the next month, the coalition may not face a vote of confidence, though members of the opposition are trying to reconvene parliament for an emergency debate.

Temple Mount recap: Early Friday morning in a premeditated move, hundreds of Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, stockpiling rocks.

  • In an effort to keep the peace and prevent further attacks, Israeli border police arrested around 400 rioters. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent 158 were injured, the majority lightly due to tear gas inhalation.
  • After six hours the police managed to restore calm. Muslim afternoon prayers were held without incident, with around 50,000 Muslim worshipers taking part.
  • False propaganda relating to the Temple Mount has often been used as a pretext to attack Jews. This time it was claimed Jews were planning to pray and even carry out animal sacrifices.
  • Israel maintains that according to the Status Quo, in place since 1967, only Muslims can pray on the mount, while non-Muslims are allowed to visit at prescribed times.

Looking ahead: Israel remains on high alert across all sectors.

  • Tension will rise if right-wing activists to march around the Old City today. The police have denied their request, instead suggesting an alternative route.
  • From tomorrow, Israel will prevent Jews from visiting the Temple Mount through to the end of Ramadan. This is also expected to contribute to the de-escalation efforts.
  • The Israeli security establishment is prepared for a possible resumption of rocket fire out of Gaza. Israel has drafted a contingency plan that will be implemented if violence out of Gaza continues, ranging from ending relief measures to executing meaningful attacks.

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