Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone Monday night with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in a bid to defuse an escalating diplomatic crisis, amid reports the two countries are nearing an agreement.
Under the emerging deal with Jordan, Israel is set to remove metal detector gates it installed at the Temple Mount. In exchange, Jordan will allow an Israeli security guard who shot dead two Jordanians when attacked in the Israeli Embassy compound to travel back to Israel, one TV report said Monday evening.
“The metal detectors will be removed; the security guard will be returned,” Channel 2 news reported. The Prime Minister’s Office denied, however, that Amman had demanded the metal detectors be removed as a condition for securing the passage of the Israeli security guard.
The goal is to have security arrangements at the Temple Mount in place in time for Friday’s Muslim prayers at the contested holy site. For over a week, Muslim worshipers have been praying outside the site, refusing to go through the metal detector gates that Israel placed there following a July 14 terror attack in which three Israeli Arabs shot dead two Israeli police officers with guns they had smuggled into the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Earlier Monday, Israel’s Shin Bet security chief Nadav Argaman flew briefly to Amman, to meet with his Jordanian counterparts, as part of efforts to resolve the crisis over the embassy incident and the wider flare-up over access to the Temple Mount. US President Donald Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt is also in the region, attempting to mediate a resolution to the escalated tensions.
Jordanian authorities want to interrogate the embassy guard about the incident, while Israel is refusing to hand him over. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the guard was stabbed by 17-year-old Mohammed Jawawdeh, who was in an embassy residence installing a bedroom set.
The guard opened fire on Jawawdeh, killing him and a second man, Bashar Hamarneh, at the site, in what the ministry said was self-defense.
The Israeli guard, who was injured during the attack, enjoys diplomatic immunity according to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and is safe from arrest and investigation, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday morning.
Israel’s top-level security cabinet was again meeting in an emergency session on Monday night, grappling with the ongoing friction over the Temple Mount and the new standoff with Jordan.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Monday to end the crisis with Jordan and to bring home the Israeli security guard who shot dead two Jordanians at the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman after he was attacked by one of them with a screwdriver on Sunday evening.
“We are holding ongoing contacts with security and government officials in Amman, on all levels, in order to bring the incident to a close as quickly as possible,” Netanyahu said.
He spoke after Jordanian officials said they would not allow the Israeli guard to leave or extend diplomatic immunity to him. Some in Jordan, including relatives of the dead assailant, have called for the guard to be tried and executed over the incident. Israel said the guard opened fire in “self-defense.”
Later in the day, Netanyahu spoke with King Abdullah, and Channel 10 news reported the the two reached an agreement to deescalate the situation, though it did not detail the conditions of the reported deal.
Paradoxically, the Israeli TV report said, the new crisis with Jordan had created “a ladder” on which Israel could climb down from its insistence on maintaining the metal detector gates.
The Channel 2 report said security authorities would detail to the security cabinet a high-tech camera alternative to the metal detectors. Cameras have been installed at the site in the past two days, and new access routes laid out, but the metal detector gates are still in place. Ultimately, however, even more high-tech security cameras are to be installed — the likes of which are not in use anywhere in Israel — which can detect concealed weapons carried by passersby and could be used instead of the detectors, the report said.
According to the plan, the cameras will be placed some distance away from the Temple Mount entrances, so as to be more discreet and not offend Muslim worshipers heading to the site.
A source, not named in the report, said that all branches of the security services are in agreement on how to provide the necessary security around the Temple Mount.
The proposal is aimed at providing a permanent solution to security flaws highlighted by the July 14 attack just outside the Temple Mount compound, the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.
After closing the site for two days, Israel reopened it with the walk-through metal detectors installed at approach passages. Palestinian political figures and Muslim religious leaders alleged that Israel was breaching a fragile status quo and expanding its control at the site under the guise of security. Israel vehemently denied this.
Most Muslim worshipers have refused to go through the detectors and hundreds have held tense prayer sessions in streets and passageways outside the compound instead.
Since the metal detectors were installed a week ago, five Palestinians have been killed and hundreds injured in riots.
Late Friday night, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed to death three members of the Salomon family at their Shabbat table in the Halamish settlement.
The new cameras would be brought from abroad at a cost of NIS 100 million ($28 million), the television report said, and would be used in coordination with security forces on the ground to prevent the smuggling of illegal weapons into the area.
Until the proposed permanent camera system is installed, police will suggest the continued use of another, less-sophisticated kind of weapon-detecting camera that was installed overnight Saturday and Sunday at three access points to the Temple Mount, backed up with security guards, and the removal of the metal detectors.
Earlier Monday morning, the security cabinet ended more than six hours of deliberations on the Temple Mount crisis, without any major decisions being reached.
A previous cabinet meeting on Thursday night led to a decision to allow the police to leave the detectors in place, reportedly against the advice of the IDF and the Shin Bet security services.