Netanyahu Briefed on Scenarios of Violence Should Trump Move Embassy to Jerusalem

Prime minister isn't sure whether or when the incoming U.S. president would announce the embassy's relocation, but has told defense officials to complete security preparations by the inauguration.

Palestinians throw stones toward Israeli troops during clashes near the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz March 16, 2010 (File photo).
REUTERS

The army, police and Shin Bet security service have presented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior ministers with scenarios of worsening violence should incoming President Donald Trump announce the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has ordered defense officials to prepare for such a possibility from the moment Trump takes office Friday evening Israel time, senior Israeli officials said.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu convened a special security consulation on preparations for an announcement by Trump on the embassy. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan were present, as were senior officials from the Israel Defense Forces, police and Shin Bet.

According to two senior Israel officials with knowledge of the consultations,  Netanyahu and other officials at the meeting said Israel did not have definite information on whether or when Trump would announceme an embassy move. One official said Netanyahu had spoken by phone with Trump a number of times since his election, but as of the meeting he had not received a clear answer on the embassy.

The meeting was held especially against the backdrop of the Palestinian media campaign on the possibility of the embassy move. One official said some Palestinian officials had made calls for violence over the issue.

The Shin Bet, Military Intelligence and police intelligence have no information on a clear warning that attacks or disturbances would take place, the ministers at the meeting were told. One scenario is that relative quiet might follow an announcement on moving the embassy, with the Palestinian response taking place only in the media and among officials.

But the IDF and police mentioned their preparations for scenarios of limited  violence or even a conflagration across the West Bank and East Jerusalem.   One official noted that since the issue revolves around Jerusalem, the Palestinians believed that the issue had religious overtones, further increasing its sensitivity.

According to senior officials, at the the end of the meeting, Netanyahu told the IDF, police and Shin Bet to complete their security preparations by Trump's inauguration. Amid the uncertainty, the assumption is that Trump could make an announcement on the embassy any moment after he enters the White House.

Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Thursday that an announcement on moving the embassy to Jerusalem was "coming soon" – he encouraged journalists to "stay tuned."

Trump told the Sheldon Adelson-owned Israel Hayom daily on Wednesday that he "hasn't forgotten" his campaign pledge to move the embassy. "And you know I'm not a person who breaks his promises," he said.

Around two weeks ago, the Palestinians launched a media and diplomatic campaign against moving the embassy. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas referred to the matter a number of times, saying the Palestinians would not react violently to such a move, but would use diplomatic and legal channels. Abbas also sent a letter to Trump asking him not to relocate the embassy, noting that moving it to Jerusalem would have a devastating effect on the peace process.

Arab countries are also working against the relocation of the embassy. A number of Arab ambassadors to Washington have met with Trump's advisers and warned them of the consequences.

Jordanian Media Affairs Minister Mohammed al-Momani said moving the embassy to Jerusalem would cross a red line and have "catastrophic consequences."

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told the American media over the last two weeks that relocating the embassy could lead to "an absolute explosion" in Israel, the West Bank and the Middle East. It would have a negative impact on relations between Israel, Egypt and Jordan.

"You'd have an explosion," he told CBS. "You’d have an explosion – an absolute explosion in the region, not just in the West Bank and perhaps even in Israel itself, but throughout the region. The Arab world has enormous interest in the Haram al-Sharif, as it is called, the Temple Mount, the Dome [of the Rock], and it is a holy site for the Arab world."

As Kerry put it, "And if all of a sudden Jerusalem is declared to be the location of our embassy, that has issues of sovereignty, issues of law that it would deem to be affected by that move and by the United States acquiescing in that move, and that would have profound impact on the readiness of Jordan and Egypt to be able to be as supportive and engaged with Israel as they are today."