US Concerned Far-Right Israeli Minister May Spark Tensions at Temple Mount During Ramadan

Biden administration fears that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s actions at the Temple Mount during Ramadan could escalate tensions in Jerusalem and the wider Middle East conflict.

The Biden administration is growing increasingly concerned that Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right National Security Minister in Israel, may attempt to provoke tensions at the Temple Mount during the upcoming Ramadan period. The US fears that such actions could potentially drag Jerusalem into the ongoing Middle East conflict, which it is seeking to contain. Ben Gvir has previously visited the site, drawing international condemnation due to his calls to upend the delicate status quo. With the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, there is heightened concern that any directive from Ben Gvir to crack down on agitators or enter the Al Aqsa Mosque could lead to violence in Jerusalem and beyond.

The Delicate Status Quo at the Temple Mount

The Temple Mount, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, is a highly contentious religious site. Under the status quo arrangement, Jews and other non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site during certain hours but are prohibited from praying there. In recent years, an increasing number of Jewish religious nationalists have visited the site and even prayed there, leading to tensions with Palestinians and Muslims who view these actions as attempts to restrict their presence at the compound. The Temple Mount is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism.

Concerns Amidst Ramadan and the Israel-Hamas Conflict

Each year during the Islamic month of Ramadan, the Temple Mount sees a significant influx of Muslim visitors, some of whom have clashed with Israeli police in the past. This year, there is even greater concern due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. The conflict, sparked by a terror attack in October 2022, has seen references to Jerusalem in the messaging of Iran-backed armed groups involved in the conflict. As the Minister in charge of police, Ben Gvir plays a critical role in law enforcement at the Temple Mount. There are concerns that any heavy-handed actions by Israeli police under his directive could potentially spark violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and beyond.

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Previous Concerns and US Involvement

For the past three years, the Biden administration has expressed concerns ahead of Ramadan, urging Jerusalem to take steps to lower tensions. Last year, the government of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heeded the US’s advice and overrode Ben Gvir’s call to allow Jewish worshipers to continue visiting the Temple Mount during the final 10 days of Ramadan. The US officials have commended Netanyahu’s government for its response. However, this year, with the overlap of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Passover occurring several weeks later, the concerns are even greater.

Ben Gvir’s Determination and US Efforts for a Humanitarian Pause

Itamar Ben Gvir has pledged to continue visiting the Temple Mount and has called for a less conciliatory approach during the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. The US and Israeli officials fear that he may be harder to dissuade this time around. In an effort to prevent further escalation, the Biden administration is keen to secure an extended humanitarian pause in Gaza before Ramadan begins. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to raise this issue during his meetings in Tel Aviv.

Conclusion:

The Biden administration is deeply concerned about the actions of Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Temple Mount during the upcoming Ramadan period. With the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and the potential for heightened tensions, there is a fear that any provocative actions by Ben Gvir could lead to violence in Jerusalem and beyond. The delicate status quo at the Temple Mount, which has already been strained in recent years, adds to the concerns. The US is actively working to secure a humanitarian pause in Gaza to mitigate the risks and prevent further escalation. As the situation unfolds, the international community will be closely watching developments at the Temple Mount during Ramadan.

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