Likud MK Ehud Yatom, who as a former Shin Bet official was one of the commanders of the operation to seize the members of the "Jewish Underground" terror group, said Sunday that the group was "very close" to carrying out a planned multiple bombing against Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount in 1984.
Yatom was responding to a statement by Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who confirmed Saturday that the security establishment had identified rising intent among current right-wing extremists to carry out a Temple Mount attack to derail Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Security sources have said possible actions included an attempt to crash a drone packed with explosives on the Temple Mount, or a manned suicide attack with a light aircraft during mass Muslim worship on the Mount. Other possibilities include an attempt by right-wing extremists to assassinate a prominent Temple Mount Muslim leader, perhaps from the Waqf Islamic trust.
Yatom, speaking on Army Radio of the Jewish Underground of the 1980s, said, "We were very close, close as touching blood, to a most serious terrorist bombing, as members of the Underground planted five bombs in five buses, which were then to convey innocent civilians and tourists.
"We were close, very close, to a situation in which people with truly distorted, wicked minds, tried to strike a place very sacred to Muslims on the Temple Mount."
Speaking on the Channel Two "Meet the Press" program Saturday, Hanegbi said: "There is no information about specific individuals, because the Shin Bet and police would not let them continue [with their plot]. But there are troubling indications of purposeful thinking, and not detached philosophy ... There is a danger that [extremists] would make use of the most explosive site, in the hope that a chain reaction would bring about the destruction of the peace process."
Yatom, a member of the hawkish wing of the Likud and a strong opponent of the disengagement plan, said that in the wake of warnings by Hanegbi and the Shin Bet of potential Jewish extremist activity, "I am indeed fearful, and I do not wish to return to those terrible, tense days of 1980-84 in which the Jewish Underground was active with its wicked plans, may the Almighty protest us from them."
Had an attack succeeded 20 years ago or in the current period, the effect would have been similar, and "horrible, terrible," he said. "It would have meant the entire Muslim world against the state of Israel and against the Western world, a war of religions," Yatom said. "With all of their pain and suffering, today's terrorist attacks would be nothing compared to what could happen - even World War III."
MKs condemn threats on Temple Mount
Knesset members petitioned Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to take steps against Yehuda Etzion after the right-wing activist called blowing up the Dome of the Rock, the gilded mosque at the center of the Temple Mount compound, a "worthy" goal during a radio interview on Sunday.
Etzion was one of the leaders of the early 1980s plot to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount.
"Losing one's patience after so many years of distortion is something understandable," Etzion told Army Radio. "Is this a worthy act? First of all, it is worthy. On the other hand, it is unworthy as an act to thwart the disengagement."
MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz-Yahad) called to Mazuz to utilize the full extent of the law against Etzion and his associates "so that there won't be a huge disaster that threatens the country's existence."
"The time has arrived to stop treating right-wing activists with silk gloves. If we don't stop them now, the blood that spills will be the fault of everyone who stood on the side doing nothing," said MK Ilan Leibowitz (Shinui).
Israeli security sources speculate that the assassination of a Waqf official might be chosen even though it would not cause mass injury or damage to the Al-Aqsa mosque or the Dome of the Rock. The aim of the Temple Mount attack conspiracy, they said, would be to carry out a visible provocation that sparked violent confrontation in the territories.
According to Hanegbi, "We sense that the level of threat to the Temple Mount from the standpoint of extreme and fanatic Jewish elements carrying out a terrorist attack in order to reshuffle the cards, to serve as a catalyst to a change in the entire political initiative - this level has risen in recent months and more so in recent weeks, more than at any time in the past."
Due to stringent security routines at the Temple Mount, Israeli security officials said Saturday, right-wing extremists would find it virtually impossible to use conventional routes to penetrate the site with explosives. Hence, the possibility of a large bomb being planted at one of the Muslim holy sites is "a lower-level possibility."
Saturday's disclosures about possible Temple Mount terror plans were preceded in recent months by a number of troubling indications. Nine months ago a suspect in a Jewish underground terror group affair, Shahar Dvir-Zeliger, told authorities a prominent West Bank settler activist had planned a Temple Mount attack. Zeliger cited two other names of West Bank settlers, suggesting the two were involved in the Temple Mount attack conspiracy.
Last Thursday, the Temple Mount Faithful group petitioned the High Court, asking to be given clearance to go up to the Holy Site for prayers later this week for Tisha B'Av.