Thursday, August 3, 2017

Beware the threat from within - Dr. Shaul Shai

by Dr. Shaul Shai

The moderate countries would be wise to join forces with Israel in the real battle against radical Islam, which threatens the security and future of the region, and avoid unnecessary friction over the Temple Mount issue.

Israel's decision to install metal detectors and security cameras at the entrances to the Temple Mount led to a wave of protests, terrorist attacks and disorderly conduct. Israel was accused of violating the status quo and freedom of worship, and in order to calm tensions, was ultimately forced to remove these security measures despite the fact that they were put in place to ensure the safety of all those who pray and visit the Temple Mount -- regardless of their religious or national identity.

Israel is an island of stability in the Middle East that guarantees full freedom of religion and worship to members of all religions. In these violent confrontations, churches, mosques and holy sites are the preferred targets of rival sides who will not hesitate to massacre worshipers, destroy places of prayer and sometimes even harm the sites holy to them.

Churches, monasteries and Christian communities have been completely wiped out under the Islamic State regime in Iraq and Syria. Agents of the terrorist organization in Egypt are waging a campaign of terror against that country's Coptic Christian minority. There is also an ongoing violent conflict within the Muslim world between the radical circles of the Sunni camp, led by the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, and radical Shiite elements led by Iran. Last month's events provided a few prominent examples of the tendency of Islamic elements to harm places holy to Islam.

In June, security forces in Saudi Arabia thwarted a terrorist attack in the Great Mosque of Mecca, the holiest place to Muslims. A suicide bomber blew himself up when security forces surrounded the building where he had been hiding not far from the Grand Mosque, and which had served as a base for the planned attack. Security forces apprehended the other members of the terror network, which apparently had ties to the Islamic State. In 2016, 40 people were killed in a suicide attack adjacent to the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina. 

Just this past week, Saudi security forces reported that the country's aerial defense system had intercepted a Scud missile directed at Mecca and launched by Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels. According to the Saudis, the launch was meant to disrupt pilgrimages to Islam's holiest site. This was the Houthi's second attempt at harming Mecca; the first came in October 2016.

Iran provides assistance to the Houthi rebels in Yemen through the delivery of weapons and the counsel and training of troops. The increasing use of surface-to-surface missiles, anti-ship missiles and other advanced weapons in the war in Yemen are a result of Iran's involvement in the conflict.

A significant Iranian fingerprint has also been revealed in the recent tensions surrounding the Temple Mount. According to the Palestinian Authority, elements associated with Iran provided food and water to the thousands of Palestinians that ascended on the Temple Mount. While Israel has done everything in its power to ensure the security of the holy places and worshipers, there is a clear indication that the source of the central threat to Islam's holy sites is in fact radical Muslims who do not hesitate to harm the sanctity of these places along with Muslim worshipers.

Iran has identified the sites holy to Islam in Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem as particularly sensitive centers with the potential to undermine the legitimacy of the Saudi regime on the one hand and ignite violent confrontations against Israel on the other. Radical Salafi organizations are working in parallel against both moderate Sunni regimes and Shiites through attacks on mosques and symbolic holy sites, such as the attack on the mausoleum of the late supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, near Tehran. 
It seems Israel and the moderate Sunni states like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are being forced to confront common enemies in the form of Iran and radical Salafi organizations. These countries would therefore be wise to join forces with Israel in the real battle against radical Islam, in all its diversity, which threatens the security and future of the region, and avoid unnecessary friction over the Temple Mount issue.

Dr. Shaul Shai is a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.


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