Israel Sparks Tension in Al-Aqsa with Explosive Actions


Israeli-Palestinian tensions have been high for over a year, with armed Palestinian resistance and Israeli security forces carrying out violent raids on Palestinian towns and villages. The United Nations has called 2022 the deadliest year for the occupied West Bank in the past 16 years, with at least 170 Palestinians killed and 9,000 injured. Despite efforts by the United States to prevent further escalation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desperate bid to cling to power is bound to accelerate processes that could ultimately trigger violence and instability well beyond occupied East Jerusalem.

In an attempt to preclude a major escalation, two regional meetings were held under United States tutelage to negotiate measures to calm the situation. However, Netanyahu’s government has been upholding the status quo neither in words nor in practice. Far-right and ultra-religious forces allied with Netanyahu have openly stated that the Israeli recognition of the Jordanian guardianship of the holy sites was an historic mistake which they are bound on rectifying. Under their watch, the raids by Israeli settlers on the Muslim holy site under the protection of the Israeli security forces have only intensified.

Netanyahu’s far-right allies are his only chance to stay in power and avoid going to jail for corruption. They are taking advantage of the situation to support with all means possible the violence Jewish settlers have unleashed onto Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and to continue eroding the status quo at the holy sites with the aim to establish new facts on the ground – ie, full Israeli control.

Hamas in Gaza has tried to take a measured response, warning Israel against further raids on Al-Aqsa. It is reluctant to escalate as this could take attention away from the Palestinian resistance in the West Bank, which Hamas sees as the main arena of conflict with Israel. Armed attacks in the occupied territories cause much more anxiety to the Israeli authorities than a confrontation with Gaza.

Hamas’s strategy now is to encourage a popular Palestinian mobilisation in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Israel in order to serve as a barrier to further encroachment on Al-Aqsa Mosque. However, Hamas may also find itself under pressure to act decisively, especially if Israel’s brutal violence against worshippers continues.

There have been repeated warnings that Israel’s actions in the holy sites could trigger a “religious war”. In January, Jordanian Ambassador Mahmoud Daifallah Hmoud told the UN Security Council that Israeli attacks on al-Haram al-Sharif are provoking “the feelings of nearly two billion Muslims” and could spark a “religious conflict”. Imposing measures in the Al-Aqsa compound would be a clear violation of the status quo, under which non-Muslims are allowed to visit only at certain hours and are not allowed to pray inside.

So far, there have only been condemnations issued by Arab states, the European Union and the US. However, unless there is a harsh response to Israeli actions now, Netanyahu’s far-right allies will only be emboldened to go even further in their efforts to take over Muslim (and Christian) holy sites and settle. Their aggression in al-Haram al-Sharif is turning it into a detonator that sooner or later will blow up the whole region.