One of the surprises of Iran’s failed missile attack on Israel was Jordan’s active role in defending Israel. Jordan explained that it was simply defending its sovereignty against missiles passing through its airspace, but, in fact, Jordan was given a sector where it was supposed to be responsible for downing the missiles and successfully completed the mission. Jordan thus demonstrated its importance to Israel as a buffer between it and Shiite Iraq and as an essential link in stopping the Iranian drive to establish the Shiite crescent around Israel.

Although Jordan is a natural ally of Israel and while relations between the two countries flourished during King Hussein’s reign, reaching their peak in the peace agreements, under King Abdullah’s reign, relations currently are not good, with the main issue of contention being the Temple Mount and Jerusalem in general  .

After Benjamin Netanyahu returned as prime minister, there was a failed meeting in Aqaba between King Abdullah and the prime minister. I was among the organizers of the meeting and learned from my Jordanian sources that the king demanded that Netanyahu respect Jordan’s role on the Temple Mount, but Netanyahu refused to commit.

The anchor of relations between Jordan and Israel has been the status quo arrangements established on the Temple Mount with the Islamic Waqf immediately after the Six-Day War. The essence of these arrangements was that Israel is responsible for protecting the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, but the plaza of the two is under the full authority of the Waqf as a Muslim religious area, while Jews are allowed to ascend to the plaza as visitors but not for religious worship. In contrast, the Western Wall is a fully Jewish area without any ties to Islam.

These agreements changed the status quo that had existed since Mamluk times when Jews and Christians were prohibited from ascending the Temple Mount, and the area of the Western Wall belonged to the Waqf, not the Jews. But the truly groundbreaking development was the role given to the Jewish state in protecting the mosques, as recognized by an important Muslim institution such as the Islamic Waqf. Furthermore, in the subsequent peace agreements with Jordan, the Hashemite king, who is descended from the Prophet Muhammad, obtained legitimacy from the Jewish state and was given a special status in the final arrangements on the Temple Mount.

The problem was that Israel failed to understand the importance of these status quo arrangements for its legitimacy in the Muslim world as a whole and took lightly the anchor of stability in Jerusalem that these status quo arrangements provided in the years to come.

The fact that 40% of Jerusalem’s inhabitants are Arabs, and the danger that, God forbid, an Intifada erupts in Jerusalem, could shake not only the capital but all of Israel, was not taken into account in Israeli politics. Israeli politicians, without a government decision, began to erode the all-important status quo, to give a Jewish religious character more prominence than Islam, as part of a messianic drive to build the Third Temple and break into the mosques with the ashes of the red heifer. Six red heifers have already been brought into the country and are awaiting their historic role in a cattle shed in Shilo.

This danger cannot be taken lightly. Whoever invested so much money in nurturing these heifers and bringing them to the country intends to break into the mosques. Just as strategic moves to erode the status quo were made without a government decision, but rather due to political pressures, an eschatological event such as a Jewish incursion into the mosques will also not be the result of a state decision but rather a decision made by Third Temple advocates.

In addition to the catastrophic consequences for Jerusalem’s stability and for Israel as a whole, this development would have disastrous implications for relations with Jordan. Not only would Jordan no longer be able to defend Israel, there would be nothing to prevent Iran from taking over Jordan, thereby completing the Shiite crescent and undermining the US policy of establishing an Israeli–Sunni alliance against the Shiite crescent, as seen in action for the first time in thwarting the Iranian attack on Israel.

What is even more disheartening is Israel’s inability to understand the unique role that history has bestowed upon it regarding the Temple Mount. Due to intra-Arab disputes, only one force can protect the mosques, and that is the security forces of the Jewish state.

To understand this, we need to analyze the Arab disputes over Jerusalem. After the Saudi dynasty removed the Hashemites from their role as the Sharifs of Mecca following World War I, Abdullah I, one of Sharif Ali’s sons, established the Emirate of Transjordan, which eventually became the Kingdom of Jordan. The Hashemites crowned themselves as guardians of the Holy Places in Jerusalem as compensation for losing Mecca and the guardianship that passed to the Saudis.

One would have thought that the two dynasties could share responsibility for the Holy Places—the Saudis in Mecca, and the Hashemites in Jerusalem. But events did not unfold in that way. To realize the potential divisions, the Saudis offered the Hashemites compensation for the vast property they left in the Hejaz, as a sign that they had relinquished Mecca. However, the Hashemites refused to accept the compensation, and as far as the Saudis were concerned, this meant that they had not relinquished their claim, and would return to their place of origin at the first opportunity. Indeed, Saudi fears were realized when Saddam Hussein planned to invade Kuwait. Suddenly, King Hussein claimed the old title of “Sharif” from Mecca and formed an alliance with Saddam Hussein to attack the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia had every reason to believe that Saddam Hussein had promised to return the Hashemite King to Mecca.

While Jordan played a strategic role in defending Israel from threats from the east, Saudi Arabia saw Jordan as a threat from the north and acted accordingly. First, it was extremely reluctant to provide aid to Jordan, to the point of completely cutting it off, which has strained the Jordanian economy to this day. Second, Saudi Arabia penetrated the Bedouin tribes in southern Jordan, spreading the Wahhabi school among them, which is the state religion in Saudi Arabia. This was done to counter the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, longstanding allies of the Hashemites, and to challenge the notion that the al-Aqsa Mosque mentioned in the Qur’an refers to the mosque in Jerusalem, but rather a mosque near Mecca, or in the heavens.

And here we move onto the most relevant issue in Muslim politics today—what happened at the beginning of Islam.

During the early days of Islam, Jerusalem held no religious significance. It was not even called al-Quds, but rather Iliya, the Byzantine name for Jerusalem. Immediately after the conquest of Iliya by Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, he offered a letter of commitment to the Byzantine archbishop of the city, pledging to preserve its Christian character.

When did Jerusalem gain its religious significance? It was during the reign of the Umayyad dynasty, which was based in Damascus. The Umayyads faced a challenge from the sons of the Prophet’s companions, the founding generation of Islam, who established a rival caliphate in Mecca. To counter this, the Umayyads needed an alternative to Mecca—and they found it on the Temple Mount. They declared the plaza of the Temple Mount to be the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque. The first Umayyad Caliph, Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan, crowned himself Caliph at this site, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, situated at the southern end of the plaza, and the ornate Dome of the Rock at the presumed site of the Temple, were built by Caliph Abd al-Malik bin Marwan in the 8th century. When examining the layout of the compound, it is hard not to compare it to the courtyard of the Kaaba. The “Rock” of the Jerusalem compound parallels the Black Stone in Mecca, which is set into the Kaaba, and keen eyes can discern a small black stone embedded in Jerusalem’s Rock, i.e., completing the parallel to Mecca with the “black” motif. Just as the Great Mosque, “al-Masjid al-Haram,” is located south of the Kaaba, the Great Mosque, which is the al-Aqsa Mosque, is situated south of the Dome of the Rock (the “Kaaba” of Jerusalem).

Despite the fact that, from an Islamic perspective, the southern “qibli” mosque is primary, the Dome of the Rock was considered central from the perspective of the Umayyad planners. It was the competitor to the Kaaba, and this is reflected in the dome’s unique beauty in comparison to the al-Aqsa Mosque. One can also observe that the plaza around the dome was constructed in a way that would facilitate tawaf, circumambulations, similar to those around the Kaaba.

But the Umayyad dynasty did not last long. The Abbasid caliphate that followed was based in Baghdad, making Jerusalem and its mosques peripheral. Mecca no longer faced any competition until the appearance of the Hashemites in Jerusalem, reviving the competition between Mecca and Jerusalem as they continued the Umayyad tradition. In terms of the competition for Jerusalem within Islam, only Israel has the capability of protecting the mosques, and the question remains whether the Jewish state can understand the magnitude of the role that history has played in its path, or if we will lose that too—or worse.