After high-level phone contacts between Bibi Netanyahu and King Abdullah and Shin Bet chief, Nadav Argaman’s secret visit to Amman, Israel and Jordan appear to have worked out a compromise to defuse the Amman embassy standoff and the al Aqsa protests as well. According to an outline of the deal reported in Israeli media, the Jordanians have permitted the evacuation of the entire embassy staff in Amman, including the Israeli Shin Bet security agent who killed the two Jordanians. Israel, in turn, has agreed to remove metal detectors installed after the murder of two Israeli police outside the Haram al Sharif last week. The new security measures outraged Muslim worshippers who held days of protests leading to the deaths of five more Palestinians in recent days.
Israel will not entirely remove the new security measures. It will retain surveillance cameras, agreeing to eventually install high-resolution equipment that will not be visible to those making their way to the Muslim holy sites. Though less obtrusive, this is still surveillance and likely to disturb some worshippers. It’s not clear whether Israel will retain or remove the cattle-pen like chutes it had installed in order to force Palestinians to snake their way to the area. Unless they are removed, they could pose a sticking point to Muslims wishing to pray unimpeded by Israeli security measures.
Though Jordan is a major player in the crisis as the steward of the Haram al Sharif through the Waqf authority, it’s not clear how Palestinian Muslims will respond. They may follow the Arab state’s lead in this matter, or they may continue the struggle against any change in the status quo of religious worship. My bet would be that both sides want to stand down and will eventually accept the deal.
It’s a tragic irony that almost from the beginning the Shin Bet opposed the draconian new security plan for the Haram al Sharif. Instead, it proposed cracking down on arms making and dealing in Palestinian villages which permitted the smuggling of the weapons used in last week’s terror attack. This would’ve been a far less intrusive plan. Ironically, it was a Shin Bet agent, deputy security chief of the Amman embassy, who instigated the very crisis that would resolve both the Jordanian and Jerusalem standoffs. As the agency’s chief, Argaman was also instrumental in finalizing the deal during his trip to Amman. Thus the security agency comes out as the wiser head in this crisis. Consequently, the defense and police ministers, Lieberman and Erdan, behaved like horses’ asses in proposing a hardcore solution which angered millions of Muslims throughout the region and verged on commencing a holy war.
The difference in these two security postures results from political positioning by Netanyahu’s rivals for future leadership. Lieberman sees himself potentially as the country’s next prime minister after Netanyahu steps down. Erdan sees himself likewise as a potential Likud standard-bearer after Netanyahu retires from leadership. No Israeli pol ever lost popularity by advocating hardline policies, no matter how violent or brutal.
The Shin Bet, on the other hand, has less of an axe to grind politically and sometimes, especially during intense crises, offers security advice that is more dispassionate.