immense importance lurk behind the scenes of American attempts to
promote their regional peace plan, which has become known as "the deal
of the century." Saudi Arabia, which is responsible for Islamic holy
sites in Mecca and Medina, is seeking a foothold and influence over
Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, too - namely, the Temple Mount.
The Trump administration, which sees Saudi
Arabia as the keystone of the moderate Arab axis, without which there
will be no deal, hasn't ruled out the Saudi aspirations. Jordan lies on
the same axis and was granted a sort of guardianship over Islamic holy
sites in Jerusalem as part of the peace treaty it signed with Israel in
1994. Jordan has become Israel's silent partner in the management of the
Temple Mount, and is upset.
The Jordanians started out by using the
standard diplomatic conduits to appeal to Israel, which tried to calm
them down. We have a contract, Israeli diplomats told envoys of Jordan's
King Abdullah. But he refused to be still. He asked Israel to discuss
the matter with the Americans.
Israel complied and in its talks with the
U.S. stressed Jordan's importance as a strategic, regional and security
partner with Israel and as a partner with whom Israel could work on the
volatile Temple Mount issue. Israel even detailed past cooperation with
the Hashemite kingdom that has yielded fruit for the U.S., as well, but
the answers from U.S. President Donald Trump didn't satisfy Abdullah.
The king wanted an unequivocal commitment that its status as the
"guardian of al-Aqsa" would not be affected.
Jordan sees this guardianship as one of the
strongest assurances for the continued existence of the kingdom, which
is currently embroiled in economic distress and whose Bedouin and other
nomadic tribes loyal to the royal family now comprise a minority. The
Palestinians – including some Muslim Brotherhood officials – are also a
constant source of concern and a frequent threat to the royal regime.
In addition, we have the historical baggage
of rivalry between Jordan and Saudi Arabia for hegemony over Islamic
holy sites in Jerusalem, which goes back years. After World War I, the
Hashemite dynasty lost its role as guardian of the holy sites in Mecca
and Medina to Saudi Arabia and had to make due with a second-tier
responsibility for their faith's holy sites in Jerusalem.
Hussein Bin-Ali, who served as the emir and
"sheriff" of Mecca, is a descendant of the Hashemite dynasty, which
sees itself as members of the same family line of the Prophet Mohammad.
Bin-Ali died in 1931 and was buried on the Temple Mount. His second son,
King Abdullah I, was assassinated at Al-Aqsa Mosque on July 20, 1951
over his contact with leaders of the Jewish community in Israel.
Abdullah's grandson King Hussein succeeded him shortly thereafter.
Hussein had witnessed his grandfather's killing.
Abdullah II, the current king, is Hussein's
eldest son and the great-grandson of Abdullah I. Even after Israel
united east and west Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day War, Jordan
continued to maintain its ties to the Temple Mount. It hired and paid
the employees of the Muslim Waqf, which handles the daily administration
of the site. Over the years, Jordan has invested heavily in
refurbishing the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa.
The Americans are familiar with this
history, but when Washington dawdled in giving Abdullah the assurances
he sought, the king decided to adopt the approach of "the enemy of my
enemy is my friend." Or more accurately, an enemy with whom I share a
more bitter enmity against someone else can also be a friend.
A meeting of billionaires
Abdullah has traveled to Turkey twice in
the past few months. He took part in conferences organized by the
Organization of Islamic Cooperation that Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan put on in Istanbul to protest the U.S. relocating its embassy in
Israel to Jerusalem.
Erdogan isn't exactly Abdullah's cup of
tea. Far from it. The Turkish president sees himself as the patron of
the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood, including the Jordanian branch, which
poses a frequent threat to the stability of Abdullah's government.
But the king assumed that Erdogan, who
openly aspires to strengthen his own influence in Jerusalem and on the
Temple Mount, was as disturbed as he was at the possibility that the
Saudis, with U.S. support, could leave both Jordan and Turkey in the
dust. The Saudi indifference to the embassy move, compared to Turkey's
outrage, along with a Saudi statement that it was canceling a $2 billion
weapons deal it had signed with Turkey, increased the common ground
between Abdullah and Erdogan, as did the prospect of the Saudis taking
over the Temple Mount.
Abdullah was sending a double hint to the
Americans: Jordan was not in Trump's pocket or an automatic partner on
the moderate Arab axis. The message was received. The meetings in Turkey
resulted in Saudi Arabia moderating its tone on becoming guardian of
the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem. For now, at least, it has dropped
the issue. Saudi Arabia and Jordan share a long border. Jordan keeps
radical Islamic elements from crossing the border into Saudi territory.
It is in Saudi Arabia's best interest that the Hashemite kingdom
continues to exist, just like it is in Israel's.
Moreover, the protests in Jordan and the
deep economic crisis there have prompted Saudi Arabia to host a summit
in Mecca on solving the Hashemite kingdom's severe economic
difficulties. The summit led to a $2.5 billion aid package for Jordan
from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The protests, along with
Abdullah's recent meetings in Turkey, led Israel and the U.S. to
reconfirm Jordan's status on the Temple Mount.
However, Jordan was asked to pay by
agreeing (not officially) that Israel drastically increase the number of
Jewish visitors allowed on the Mount, with one clear caveat. Jews can
visit, but they cannot pray there. Jordan is still being asked to
support the idea of establishing the capital of a future Palestinian
state in the city of Abu Dis on the municipal border of east Jerusalem.
For now, it still opposes the idea. Jordan has also been asked to stop
flirting with the evil Islamist axis, including Erdogan.
Now that Saudi Arabia has dropped, if
temporarily, its demand for status on the Temple Mount as part of the
deal of the century and Jordan's status there is apparently guaranteed,
Saudi Arabia and Jordan are once again teaming up against Turkish
activity in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount. They have both expressed
concern to Israel about the sway Erdogan is purchasing in east Jerusalem
by funneling money into projects through Turkish organizations like Our
Heritage Foundation and the quasi-governmental TIKA.
Terrorism comes to light
About a year and a half ago, the National
Security Council began collecting evidence about the money Turkey is
pouring into east Jerusalem. The goal of the project was to attempt to
curtail Turkish activity in the capital as much as possible and close
down the financial conduits that bring Turkish money into the city.
The immediate suspects as go-betweens for
these transactions were Hamas and the outlawed Northern Branch of the
Islamic Movement. No proof of their ideological ties to Turkey is
needed, but for Israel to take action against the Turkish groups active
in Jerusalem, it needed proof of illegal contact, financial or
otherwise. Considerable information was collected, and it is now under
review. It will soon be presented to local and diplomatic authorities.
Some of the evidence was taken from public
sources. A new report from Pinhas Inbari, a researcher with the
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is based mainly on that material.
The Inbari report shows a possible association between some of the
Turkish groups and branches of terrorist organizations.
Inbari says that Turkey has already
penetrated the Muslim religious institution in the city via the leader
of the Supreme Muslim Council, Sheikh Ikrama Sabri, who has even started
wearing the white priestly robes that symbolize the Turkish religious
authorities. The report says that Sabri even has a direct line to
Erdogan and that many people in east Jerusalem use his services to
contact the Turkish government.
Inbari sheds new light on both Sabri's activity and the Turkish "tourism" to the Temple Mount,
which have both been covered extensively by Israel Hayom. According to
his findings (he quotes Israel sources), groups of unemployed Turks are
paid to take part in the Turkish tourism campaign, which has one goal:
to retake the Temple Mount.
The more important revelation in the report
has to do with the terror-supporting charitable organization IHH (most
familiar to Israelis from the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident) and its
secret cooperation with the Turkish organization TIKA. TIKA, we know, is
a big spender in east Jerusalem.
"It could be that terrorist cells are
hiding behind a curtain of the cultural, social and economic activity
that is being seen in east Jerusalem," Inbari writes. The researcher
bases the information about the possible connection on remarks from
Ahmet Sait Yayla, an opponent of Erdogan and former head of the Turkish
police's counter-terrorism division, made in the U.S.
Secret activity in the capital
Inbari ends his report with a Turkish
report that describes the leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic
Movement Sheikh Raed Salah as the "governor of Jerusalem."
Inbari concludes with a few questions raised by the material that has come to light for the first time in his report.
"Has Turkey already established its own
secret administration in Jerusalem? What is the significance of the role
of 'governor of the city' given to an Israeli citizen [Salah]? And
also, is it possible that signs that decorated the 'Al-Aqsa Stage' at a
meeting of imams held in Istanbul last summer - signs that showed
Turkish pilgrims seizing control of the Temple Mount compound - indicate
that the Turkish plan is the 'conquer' the Temple Mount from Israel by
flooding it with pilgrims who will announce that they have restored it
to Muslim hands?"
Inbari's information about the money paid to out-of-work Turks to come "visit" Jerusalem could support that theory.
The new information is keeping Israeli
security officials awake at night, but it is also worrying the Jordanian
royalty, who are trying to work with Israel and Saudi Arabia against
Turkey's attempts to buy a hold on the Temple Mount and the Old City of