jerusalem | If there is one thing common to many apocalyptic fantasies about the Middle East, it is that the next world war will begin with an attempt to blow up the al-Aksa mosque and the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
This week, Israeli officials warned that they feared Jewish extremists might be planning just such an attack.
Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s minister of internal security, said in a television interview last weekend that intelligence services fear the threat could grow as right-wingers seek to block Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan.
“There is real danger that they will want to make use of this most sensitive, most explosive and most sacred site to the Muslims to stage a terrorist attack on the site, whether in a mosque or against worshippers, and then hope that a chain reaction will lead to the collapse of the political process,” Hanegbi said.
But to Israel’s right wing, Hanegbi’s comments were similar to frequent warnings from Israeli officials about Jewish extremists allegedly poised to strike: The claims, though, politically useful, are made without any substantial evidence about who the conspirators may be, how many of them there are and how advanced their supposed plans are.
In fact, Hanegbi said, “There is no information on specific people” who might blow up the Temple Mount. But, he added, “There are alarming indications that thoughts” about blowing up the mosque “are substantial, and not only philosophical.”
Leaders of Israel’s settler movement describe such a vague warning as an attempt to delegitimize their protest campaign against Sharon’s disengagement plan.
“They are simply setting the stage for preventive arrests among the so-called ‘hilltop youths,'” said veteran settler leader Elyakim Haetzni of Kiryat Arba, referring to young settlers who have zealously defended settlement outposts throughout the West Bank and who are the most heated opponents of Israeli withdrawal.
Most of the Jewish groups who dream of rebuilding the Holy Temple on the mount say they would not resort to violence but would wait for the Messiah to miraculously destroy the Muslim shrines. Some small fringe groups, however, could be more inclined to take matters into their own hands.
Shlomo Aharonishky, the inspector-general of the Israel Police, confirmed that security forces were considering administrative arrests of Jewish radicals. Such arrests can be made without criminal charges, and would neutralize some of the staunchest supporters of Sharon’s withdrawal plan.
“They point a finger at the hilltop youth because they want to prepare the ground for ethnic cleansing of Jews, to please the Americans,” Haetzni said. “How many do they want to put in preventive arrests, all those 100,000 who stood in the chain today?”
He was referring to a human chain formed Sunday night, July 25, from the Gaza Strip to Jerusalem to protest the disengagement plan.
A more likely target might be Yehuda Etzion, convicted when the 1980s underground movement was broken up. Etzion reportedly had developed a plan to blow up the mosque.
“I pray three times a day that 1,934 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, we shall rebuild the Third Temple on the site still controlled by the Muslim robber,” Etzion said in a recent radio interview. He added: “Blowing up the Dome of the Rock is the right thing to do, but this is not the way to prevent the disengagement plan.”