Israel received a statement of support from the United States for its decision this week to remove metal detectors from Har HaBayis, though it has not placated Muslims, and a harsh exchange over the issue with Turkey continued Wednesday.
The Israeli government took down the recently installed detectors “despite the demonstrated need to enhance security,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Tuesday night, “in the wake of the murder of two Israeli police officers at the site on July 14.”
“The United States applauds the efforts of Israel to maintain security while reducing tensions in the region,” Sanders continued.
Earlier in the day, State Department spokesman Heather Nauert, in a comment on the situation, made mention of the all-but-forgotten peace process:
“Anything that serves to de-escalate tensions and pave the road for the two sides to come together and have conversations not only about this, but also about the peace process moving forward, we would certainly support that,” Nauert said. “As you know, we support the maintenance of the status quo at that site and we welcome all sides and their commitment to the status quo.”
Nauert would not comment on whether the U.S. considers the introduction of these cameras to be a violation of the status quo on the Temple Mount.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would not let Israel have the last word in an unusually undiplomatic exchange over the Har HaBayis crisis.
Erdogan said on Wednesday that the removal of metal detectors was a right move but not enough, and accused Israel of inflicting damage on Yerushalayim’s “Islamic character,” Reuters reported.
“Israel’s step back from the metal-detector implementation that offends Muslims is right but not enough,” Erdogan said, and warned Israel away from doing anything that would hurl the region into a “circle of fire.”
Erdogan’s comments came after he called Tuesday on Muslims worldwide to “defend al-Aksa.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said that “It’s absurd that the Turkish government, which occupies Northern Cyprus, brutally represses the Kurdish minority and jails journalists, lectures Israel, the only true democracy in the region.”
His remarks came after Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu on Wednesday accused Israel of making “arrogant” statements after the country’s foreign ministry called remarks by President Erdogan a day earlier “delusional, baseless and distorted,” according to The Associated Press.
In an e-mailed statement, Muftuoglu “condemned” the Israeli ministry’s comments and called on Israel to fulfill its responsibilities by “acting with good sense, restoring the status quo (at the holy site) and lifting all hurdles to the freedom of worship.”
A senior Muslim official in Yerushalayim said Wednesday that worshippers would not return to Har HaBayis until Israel removes the new railings and cameras it installed, according to AP.
Ikrema Sabri, head of the Supreme Islamic Committee, said that even after Israel removed metal detectors from the site, more steps are required to restore calm. He said mass prayer protests would continue until the gates of the compound are opened, metal railings and an iron bridge removed and newly installed cameras taken down.
The Muslim intransigence threatens further violent confrontations ahead of Friday prayers at the site.
Thus, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government finds itself caught in a predicament; even after backing down on the metal detectors, the problem is not solved; and at the same time it faces tough criticism from usually supportive quarters on the right.
Even pro-Netanyahu Yisrael Hayom denounced the government’s response to the crisis as “feeble and frightened.”
In an unprecedented headline, the paper led with “Netanyahu’s demonstration of helplessness.”
Netanyahu appeared to be doubling back again Wednesday when he instructed police forces to conduct thorough inspections at the site.
Also on Wednesday, former defense minister Moshe Yaalon told Channel 2 that the issue of metal detectors is merely a pretext for asserting Muslim control of the site.
“There’s a blood libel against us that we’re allegedly going to destroy Al-Aqsa. This isn’t a new thing. This is about some elements that want to take over the Temple Mount,” he said.
Regarding Erdogan, Yaalon charged that he “is challenging Jordanian control over Har HaBayis.”
However, the Israeli government did not escape his criticism either, for failing to consult with the Jordanians before imposing new security arrangements after the July 14 terror attack.
“Because of that sensitivity, you have to understand that if you’re going to put metal detectors, you have to coordinate it with the Jordanians. That wasn’t done,” he said.