Three members of the security cabinet, from three different parties, who attended several meetings of that forum this week, described Netanyahu to me in similar terms: “Calm, in control, not uptight, attentive, alert and functioning, even at 3 A.M.”
They believed his account that the removal of the metal detectors from the Temple Mount gates was not payment to King Abdullah in return for his agreement to allow the embassy staff and the security guard to return to Israel. “There are situations in which Bibi doesn’t lie,” they said in one way or another. “This time he told the truth. He arrived at the decision to remove the detectors before the incident in Amman. Somehow, the two things became intertwined.”
Within the sealed walls of the security cabinet room, Netanyahu conducts himself professionally, intelligently, responsibly, rationally. He’s been through many security crises, including in the Bermuda Triangle of the three religions in Jerusalem. His learning curve is good. Moreover, he’s cautious – some would say a coward by nature.
But when he gets home, to the fighting family, to sleepless nights, he goes off-kilter. He made the decision to install the metal detectors after the police recommended it and neither the Shin Bet security service nor the army objected. He gave the instruction and flew off to Europe. Just hours after he returned, last Thursday evening, with the situation roiling and Friday prayers around the corner, he convened the security cabinet to reconsider the arrangements at the Mount.
As reported, the initial decision to leave the detectors in place was approved by a large majority. Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) and National Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz voted against; they thought their installation was ineffective and probably harmful.
At that same meeting, which followed a few days of mounting tension on the Palestinian street and in Jordan, and a glut of intelligence reports and situation appraisals by the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet, the heads of those two bodies, Gadi Eizenkot and Nadav Argaman, respectively, urged the immediate removal of the detectors. They painted a series of potential serious scenarios, both locally and in broader and more distant circles.
For his part, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said something to the effect of: It’ll be alright. We’ll get them used to it – the Palestinian worshipers will go through the detectors.
The problem with the police is their shortsightedness. They see the picture from the tip of their nose to the far end of their truncheons, at best. Alsheich came from the Shin Bet, which takes a far broader view, but he’s apparently forgotten what he learned there, while retaining what he wasn’t mean to learn. The ministers and Netanyahu preferred to base themselves on his expert opinion. It also served them politically.
That was not true, as we saw, in the case of Galant and Steinitz – the former, a retired major general who was at one stage Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s military secretary; the latter, a former chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a veteran member of the security cabinet.
“You’re wrong, they will not get used to it, and they won’t go through [the metal detectors],” Galant said in the meeting in the wee hours of Friday morning last week. “It’s a serious mistake to leave the detectors there. Let there be no doubt, I am one of you and bear responsibility for whatever decision is made here, but in my opinion, we need to remove them immediately. Every delay is detrimental.”
Galant’s reasoning was basically similar to that of the Shin Bet and the IDF. “The Arabs are using it against us, from the Palestinians to the Islamic Movement and Hamas,” he warned. “This is a ‘charger’ for terrorist energy that is liable to erupt at any moment, in different places as well” (a prophecy that, unfortunately, was fulfilled about 18 hours later, in Halamish).
“It’s also not practical,” Galant added. “It’s impossible to move tens of thousands of people through metal detectors when they’re in a oppositional frame of mind. This isn’t a closed hall in an airport. On the way to prayers on the Mount they will pass through alleys, shops, people. The opposition will be kindled.”
Galant continued, “Sooner or later we will take down the detectors and will be obliged to open the area. The more time that passes, the higher the price we will pay. We made a mistake when we installed them, but mistakes have to be corrected when they’re still small. The more time you let go by, the greater the loss of honor and the loss of deterrence that will be entailed in removing the detectors.”
The atmosphere in the security cabinet was very different. This was certainly the finest hour of the metal detectors; their popularity soared to new heights. Toward the end of the debate, the balance of forces was clear to everyone. Votes aren’t always taken in that forum. Galant demanded one and wanted minutes taken. After the vote – two against all the others present – he said, “The day will not be long in coming when we’ll have to take another vote on this decision.”
And so it was, word for word. The next day, last Friday, when the details of the cabinet meeting leaked and the views expressed by the IDF and the Shin Bet became known, those two bodies became the punching bag of the right wing. Every mother’s son smashed and bashed them, accused them of wimpishness, of surrendering Israel’s sovereignty. In short, leftists. Suddenly the police became the darling of the right wing, an object of veneration. Until they’re called upon to evacuate settlers from some new ghost outpost. When that happens, the cries of “Nazis” will reverberate across the rocky terraces, and we’ll read the trenchant tweets about the use of exaggerated force.