Mounting an Extremist Action

To thwart the planned withdrawal from Gaza, Jewish extremists may initiate an attack on the Temple Mount. This possibility is seen as increasingly likely by the Shin Bet and the police.

In April 1982, about a year before the evacuation of Yamit, several activists from the Movement to Stop the Withdrawal from Sinai met in the field school at the northern Sinai settlement. The participants included rabbis Zvi Tau, Yisrael Ariel and Oded Wolensky; Yehuda Harel from the Golan Heights and Shlomo Baum, a veteran of Unit 101, Israel's first commando unit, in the 1950s; Avraham Mintz, whose son, Yehuda Etzion, would be implicated in the Jewish underground two years later; and Galila Ron Feder, author of books for youngsters.

Discussions lasted two days during which a number of ideas were raised for torpedoing the withdrawal. Those who favored the activist line held that nothing short of the assassination of the president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, would prevent the pullout. One of the rabbis spoke about "an action on the Temple Mount that will resonate - for example, bringing 10,000 people to the mount and keeping them there until the withdrawal is canceled - and maybe something even more extreme."

While nothing came of that discussion, without the participants' knowledge, the Jewish underground was also preparing for action. At least some members of the underground thought that demolishing the mosques on the Temple Mount would be an effective way to stop the withdrawal and prevent the evacuation of Yamit. Nearly 10 years earlier, against the background of the separation of forces agreements in Sinai following the Yom Kippur War, Yoel Lerner had come up with a similar idea, based on the idea that attacks on the Temple Mount mosques would prevent any Arab group from continuing the political process with Israel.

Today, Jewish extremists may possibly try to bring down the mosques on the Temple Mount. The Shin Bet security service unit that deals with thwarting Jewish subversion and Jewish extremists is currently addressing the possibility of such an action.It has been brought up again in the wake of the disengagement plan proposed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in which Israel would evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip. The Shin Bet's working assumption is that if in the past there were those who viewed the Temple Mount as a legitimate instrument for thwarting a political move, they may reach the same conclusion today.

Just half a year ago, Shahar Dvir Zeliger, suspected of being a member of a new Jewish terrorist cell, said that a well-known leader of the Samaria region "hilltop youth movement" had planned an attack on the Temple Mount. During his interrogation, Zeliger named two more members of the "hilltop movement" who were involved the Temple Mount plan, one from Samaria and the other from the Kiryat-Arba/Hebron area.

Zeliger said that several squads were planning attacks on mosques not located on the Temple Mount. According to the plan, no squad would know what the other was doing.

"The whole story is very compartmentalized," he said. Most of the suspects in this latest Jewish terrorist ring were eventually released, and there were no new arrests. The Shin Bet was unable to prove anything, but its investigators remain convinced that the detainees were connected to a series of attacks on Arabs and that there was discussion about plans to attack mosques in general and specifically on the Temple Mount.

Newly religious criminals

Following interrogations related to the Temple Mount, both the Shin Bet and the police believe the current potential for an act of terror by Jews lies with the hilltop extremists. They are, in many ways, alienated from the state. As newly religious people who have undergone a change in their world outlook, they tend to view the world as black and white, with no shades inbetween. They are imbued with a powerful sense of religious mission and may well allow themselves to take action on the Temple Mount to stop the withdrawal.

The kabbalah, the system of Jewish mysticism, is also being mentioned as one of the elements that could foment radicalization in the positions of people on the right and induce them to commit an unbalanced act. These people believe that the residents of Gush Katif, the settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip, who are being threatened with evacuation, are law- abiding people who will set their own limits in the struggle against the withdrawal.

To prevent an attack on the Temple Mount mosques, the Shin Bet needs to obtain intelligence about groups with the potential to take action there. The targets of surveillance are the hilltop extremists, centers of newly religious people, activists of the outlawed Kach movement, yeshivas where young people study the kabbala, criminals who have drawn close to religion and have access to combat materiel, and also mentally unbalanced individuals who have fallen under extremist political or religious influences. In the more distant past it was precisely the mentally deranged types who were closer to attacking the Temple Mount mosques. Examples include the Lifta gang, who were caught in 1984 while planning to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount, and Alan Goodman, who in 1982 began shooting on the mount.

Today, more than in the past, intelligence about Jewish extremist groups is relatively limited. Aryeh Amit, a former Jerusalem District police commander, says that the Jewish extremists have learned lessons from police and Shin Bet activity against them. "They are far more suspicious today and far more professional in disrupting intelligence," Amit says.

Amit rejects the thesis that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin moderated the religious and political radicalism on the right. "We are not talking about the broad sector of the settlements in Yesha, the Council of Jewish Settlements of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District, nor about an ideological sector and certainly not about those who came there [to the settlements] because of quality of life. But there is no moderation on the fringes and maybe even the opposite is true."

Amit thinks that "if the people on the fringes believe a serious event on the Temple Mount will generate chaos that will stop the plan's progress, they will try to bring about an event of that kind."

Amit also has some good news: "The Shin Bet, the police and the unit in charge of holy places have become very professional with regard to protecting the Temple Mount. Today it is more difficult to attack the Temple Mount and its mosques." Nevertheless, an attack is not impossible.

While Amit refuses to say so explicitly, he is referring to the "Barda precedent." Shimon Barda, an escaped criminal, was a member of the Lifta gang (Lifta is a deserted former Arab village at the western entrance to Jerusalem). Following his capture, Barda led his interrogators to a cache in one of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, where an antitank missile was hidden. The suspicion was that Jewish extremists, and not necessarily Barda, planned to fire the missile at the mosques on the Temple Mount

The intelligence and law enforcement organizations are concerned about a possible Jewish attack on the Temple Mount that will be perpetrated from afar, utilizing appropriate ammunition. The criminal market is saturated with such ammunition.

Yoel Lerner, who served time in prison during the 1970s and 1980s because of plans to strike at the Temple Mount mosques, also believes that individuals may possibly try to reconstruct his plan. "It happened once or twice; there is no reason it won't happen again," he says. Lerner also offers a more specific evaluation: "As long as there are some `hilltop' youth around here who consider Nati Ozeri a paragon of virtue [Netanel Ozeri, 34, was murdered in January 2003 by terrorists in the "Hill 26" neighborhood outpost in Kiryat Arba, next to Hebron] anything is possible."

Lerner adds that he knew Ozeri and says: "He was one of these young people who are capable of taking action concerning the Temple Mount, if someone were to point him in the right direction. He could reach conclusions similar to the ones I reached in 1974, during the period of the separation of forces agreements and the evacuation of parts of Sinai. Ozeri was a very charismatic figure, a guide in the full sense of the word. I know at least a few others like him who are wandering around on the hilltops."

Violent action

The Shin Bet is well aware of the difficulties it faces in obtaining intelligence about the extremist Jewish sector. That is, perhaps, why the Shin Bet has organized several meetings with Yesha rabbis in the past few years. The meetings were intended to raise the rabbis' awareness that Jewish extremists might possibly take illegal and violent action, and to ask them to exert their influence on the extremists and restrain them. In general, the meetings were concerned with Jewish extremists who might attack Arabs in revenge for Arab acts of terror. The Temple Mount was mentioned only peripherally.

In recent months, the Shin Bet has again become increasingly aware of the possibility that Jewish extremists might try again to strike at the Temple Mount, in the hope that this will block withdrawal from either Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip or Judea-Samaria. In the very near future, the rabbis will also be informed of this concern. Past experience shows that everyone who has wanted to strike at the Temple Mount for ideological reasons has first consulted with rabbis, whether directly or indirectly. The working assumption is that if a similar plan is hatched, the individuals will again approach rabbis and possibly also some of the leaders of the Yesha Council.

Evidence for this concern can be found in remarks made by Daniella Weiss, the head of the Kedumim local council. A few weeks ago, Weiss, a veteran Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) activist, published an "Open Letter to the Head of the Shin Bet, Avi Dichter." In the document she is highly critical of the administrative detention (arrest without trial) imposed on Noam Federman, one of the leaders of the former Kach movement, and in passing she mentions a visit Dichter paid to her office in the Kedumim settlement. "What are you people afraid of?" Weiss wrote to Dichter."The destruction of the Temple Mount mosques? Extreme acts of revenge against Arabs? Activate your proficient and efficient departments to prevent those actions!"

Yehuda Etzion, who conceived the idea of blowing up the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount when he was active in the Jewish underground group that was uncovered in the mid-1980s, personally abhors the idea of using the Temple Mount as an instrument to thwart a withdrawal. "That would be an unacceptable use of the Temple Mount, which should be a goal in itself. In saying this I did not say that we should go and blow up the Dome of the Rock, even without withdrawals," he clarifies. While Etzion does not know anyone who intends to blow up the Temple Mount now, he does not rule out the possibility that there might be more attempts since there have been precedents.

The Jewish underground's plan to blow up the Dome of the Rock was ultimately abandoned. Today, other members of that underground note that a Jewish terrorist who might take action today has a lot more to lose than they did. "The rabbinic world and religious rulings have moved in our direction," says a former member of the underground. "Many more rabbis are now permitting visits to the Temple Mount. [Such visits are still prohibited by rabbis for fear that Jews will inadvertently step on the spot where the Holy of Holies stood in the temple period.] A far larger public today is aware of the sanctification of the Temple Mount. Only a few months have passed since the Temple Mount was reopened to Jews, following three years during which it was closed [by the Muslim Waqf body]. There is definitely something to lose in an attack on the mount, which is liable to raise higher the walls between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount, and distance us from constantly drawing closer to the mount, as we have been doing in recent years."

Striking the Temple Mount

Attorney Naftali Werzberger has for many years represented hilltop activists, Kach figures and members of the Jewish underground who are brought to the courts, either to be remanded in custody or after they have been formally indicted. According to Werzberger, the idea of striking at the Temple Mount "has been floating in the air, with ups and downs, for decades.

"The actors change," Werzberger notes, "but the idea exists. This kind of talk is on the increase these days and again there is exacerbation. Because of the lack of control and access to the place, the Temple Mount assumes some sort of mysterious dimension. One of the things I run into a lot is people who go up to the Temple Mount for the first time and return with a kind of religious inspiration and with a good deal of frustration and humiliation. It's one of those things that seethe. The feeling that some sort of action on the Temple Mount can effect a change in the process, block withdrawals, is definitely a feeling that is coming from the direction of Jewish extremism."

Werzberger finds it difficult to map the potential for activity of this kind, but says: "These are not people whom you look for under the street lamp. I would say that these are not the people who take to the streets and demonstrate. The potential for this activity is lurking in the less political religious extreme: newly religious people, kabbalists, the hilltop eccentrics, or someone who will be exposed for the first time to prophecies and books of apocalyptic writings. The others channel their protest into street activity."

Which books does Werzberger have in mind? In the early 1980s, Yeshua Ben Shushan, an army officer, rabbi, ritual slaughterer and circumciser, relied on a hint he found in the Book of Daniel to the effect that the building of the temple and the redemption of the Jewish people depend, among other events, on removing the "abomination" from the place where the temple once stood. Ben Shushan, who was preoccupied with the Jewish secret doctrine, drew on the 16th century kabbalah of Rabbi Isaac Luria. It states that as long as the Jewish people is found in part among the nations of the world, it gives them the ability to exist, as the gentiles hold the sparks of holiness of the Jewish people. Full redemption will thus deprive the other nations of this force of vitality and remove the source from which they drew sustenance.

According to the same principle, Ben Shushan identified the structure of the Dome of the Rock, which rest on the Holy of Holies, as a source of spiritual sustenance for the Arabs. He believed that "Muslim rule on the Temple Mount is the source of the spiritual misdirection of the people of Israel, one expression of which is the Camp David accords." In Ben Shushan's view, blowing up the Dome of the Rock in the early 1980s was intended above all to thwart the evacuation of Yamit and Sinai. Ben Shushan visited the kabbalists Shalom Atia and Mordechai Sharabi, and also consulted with Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook, in an attempt to obtain their approval for the action.

Will the present-day zealots also precede action with rabbinic consultation? It's hard to say. Yigal Amir, for example, did not get authorization from anyone before he assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Is the ground now ripe for the rise of a terrorist or an underground who will view the Temple Mount as a means to torpedo the disengagement plan?

In the Shin Bet, the police, and among those who are close to the Jewish zealots, the answer to this question is positive. The human environment that is liable to give rise to activity of this kind is also well-defined. Nevertheless, it is impossible to keep all the potential suspects under surveillance and equally impossible to foresee the intentions of all of them, especially in the case of a lone assailant who does not let anyone in on his plans. Nor does the Shin Bet tend to place population sectors under surveillance. It tries to focus its intelligence as specifically as possible.

At the last Herzliya Conference, the head of the Shin Bet, Avi Dichter, referred to "a strategic threat on the part of Jewish terrorism." Hezi Kallo, who in the mid-1990s headed the Shin Bet's branch for non-Arab affairs, says that Dichter was referring to the possibility of a Jewish strike on the Temple Mount, with all that this would entail.

Kallo believes that "a Jewish strike at the Temple Mount, in an effort to torpedo a political process, is a possibility that definitely has to be taken into account. The potential of the threat exists, but it's difficult to define. One time it's a young man from Herzliya, another time a young man from Haifa, one time from the territories, another time from the ideological hardcore. The key to preemption lies in intelligence and in the circles of protection, but it has to be taken into account that if it's a lone individual, such as Baruch Goldstein [who shot 29 Muslim worshippers in 1994], the prospect of getting to him ranges from very difficult to negligible."