The Israeli government has said that it will remove the metal detectors installed at the al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
The announcement comes after a violent incident took place at the Israeli Embassy complex resulted in the deaths of two Jordanians. An Israeli guard had reportedly been attacked by one of the men with a screwdriver and he had responded by opening fire.
Dr. Mishka Ben-David, a former Mossad agent said that this wasn’t the first time Israel has yielded to Jordan’s demands to ensure the safety of its own citizens. An incident in 1997 also played out with a similar outcome.
On September 25, 1997, two Mossad agents approached Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan and injected him with an unknown poisonous substance. The decision to assassinate him was taken during Netanyahu’s first term after Jordan denied Israel’s request to shut down Hamas offices in the country. The two nations had signed a peace treaty in 1994, hence this operation had to be conducted with utmost discretion. But the two Mossad agents had been spotted by Mashaal’s security team and then later captured. Four other Mossad agents who had also been part of the operation, were able to make their way to the Israeli Embassy but were essentially trapped.
That is when the decision was made by Israel to provide the Hamas leader with the antidote for the poison. Dr. Mishka Ben-David, had been the one to deliver this antidote to the Jordanians and Mashaal recovered. Israel also agreed to release Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. At the end, a full-blown diplomatic crisis had been averted and the Israeli agents returned home.
When the incident in the Embassy took place in Jordan on Sunday, the Israeli guard had been taken into custody by the Jordanian law enforcement. Israel said that the guard had diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention but they could not secure his release. Thus, once again, Jordan was in possession of one of Israeli citizens.
Dr Ben-David commented on the relationship saying, “If we learn from earlier crises with the Jordanians, as soon as they have Israeli assets – they are effectively holding the security guard [since he cannot leave the embassy] and he is the thing they want – they have the cards.”
al Aqsa is considered the third holiest site in Sunni Islam. When Israel had installed metal detectors, thousands of Palestinians protested this move and violence had ensued. Many of Jordan’s 7 million inhabitants are of Palestinian origin. Jordan is also the official custodian of the site in Jerusalem.
Our assessment is that Israel had no choice but to remove the metal detectors. The new measures had deeply hurt the sentiments of the Muslim community in the Arab world. Israel would essentially have been inviting more violence if it had continued to ignore the multitude of protests. Additionally, as Dr Ben-David noted, Jordan held all the cards once it took the guard into custody.