JNS: What is Israel’s next move as Turks and Saudis duel over Jerusalem?
By: Ariel Ben Solomon
Tensions have run increasingly high between the Jordanians and Saudis on one side, and the Turks and Qataris on the other over control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
“Turkey’s neo-Ottominism in its foreign policy seeks to re-establish its empire; however, the audience is not Western elites, but is meant for domestic consumption,” said David Wurmser, who served as a senior adviser on the Middle East to former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and is currently an executive at the Dephi Global Analysis Group, which he founded.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is driving “an internal policy outward, tapping into the primordial roots of what Turkey once was with the dissolution of the Ottoman caliphate,” Wurmser told JNS.
It all goes back to the modern struggle within Turkey of whether or not the country is meant to be a secular democracy or the leader of the Islamic world, says the former senior U.S. official.
Turkey is spending millions of dollars a year to gain influence on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in coordination with the branch of the Muslim Brotherhood known as the Islamic Movement in Israel.
According to an article by Nadav Shragai in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, “Turkey is working diligently to deepen its involvement and influence on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem and in east Jerusalem neighborhoods.”
According to Harold Rhode, a longtime former adviser on Islamic affairs within the U.S. Defense Department’s Office of Net Assessment, and who worked for a time as the Turkish desk officer in the Pentagon, says Turkey is getting the millions of dollars from Qatar—the major funder of the Muslim Brotherhood—to invest in Muslim Brotherhood-linked organizations throughout the Muslim world, and in this case, to gain influence among Israeli Arabs in Jerusalem.
“Turkey is carrying out actions in cahoots with Qatar,” he says. “This also explains Turkey’s great interest in Gaza, where Qatar is a major backer of the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot Hamas.”
According to a report in the Israel Hayom newspaper, Israel and Saudi Arabia are in secret talks with the United States since last December about giving the Saudis a stake with Jordan in the Islamic Waqf Council at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The report said that the Jordanians initially rejected diluting its power over the Waqf Council, but later changed its position to counter Turkish interference.
A separate article published in Al Jazeera in May 2019 also spoke about this ongoing feud over Jerusalem and sated that the rising popularity of Turkey among Palestinians “was worrying Saudi Arabia.”
Jordan and Saudi Arabia are pushing back against the Islamist supporting Turkey and Qatar that are pushing the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the world.
According to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute, the former Jordanian Minister of Information, Saleh Al-Qallab, was quoted as saying earlier this month on Al-Arabiya that “Erdoğan is currently the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“The Muslim Brotherhood is an actual terrorist organization,” says Al-Qallab. “What is he [Erdoğan] doing in Arab countries? Is he an Ottoman?”
‘Islam is deeply rooted in Turkish culture’
Rhode says many “young Turks say they hate Islam—they see themselves as Deists but not Muslims.”
“Nevertheless, Turkish culture is so deeply rooted in Islam. And in Islam, Muslims are regarded as brothers, and that is why when it comes to the Palestinians, most of these youth support the Palestinians anyway.
“Why is that?” continues Rhode. “Because these Turkish Deists, regardless of their ideological or political affiliation, apparently do not realize that their opinions about the Palestinians are still informed by Islam, which they claim to have abandoned.”
Rhode says that the Saudis, as Wahhabi Muslims, follow the teachings of their intellectual godfather Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328), a Muslim theorist who hated Jews along with most other non-Sunni Muslims.
“Ibn Taymiyyah also proved, using early Islamic sources, that the attempt to make Jerusalem holy in Islam was nothing more than a Jewish plot to Judaify Islam,” explains Rhode, adding that Ibn Taymiyyah stated that the only holy cities in Islam were Mecca and Medina, and not Jerusalem (or even Hebron).
So for the Saudis, Jerusalem is not holy, but it is important only because of the battle with the Muslim Brotherhood leaders of Turkey for the soul of Sunni Islam.
Therefore, adds Rhode, “the Saudis cannot disavow Jerusalem because it has become a political issue and it now sees Islamist Turkey as a threat there. And the Jordanians are terrified by the Turks.”
“In the grand scheme of things, it is the impoverished Jordanians who cannot stand up alone against the Turks by themselves because they don’t have the financial resources,” and that is why “the Jordanians asked the wealthy Saudis to join them in stopping the Turks from taking over control of the Muslim Waqf on the Temple Mount.”
The Saudis and the Jordanians are united in their battle against the Turks, Qataris and the Muslim Brotherhood, which are all trying to take over the Temple Mount.
‘It would not serve a good purpose for Israel’ Asked what Israel’s policy should be on this issue, Rhode suggested that “Israel stay out of this Muslim battle and not publicly take sides, meaning, do what Israel did in Syria: Take no side in the Syrian civil war, but only intervene when Israeli interests are at stake.”
Because if Israel says anything in favor of the Saudis and Jordanians, the Turks, Qataris and other Muslim Brotherhood activists “would accuse the Saudis and Jordanians of being Zionist stooges.”
Wurmser asserts that letting the Saudis, Jordanians, Turks and Qataris to battle it out is not a bad idea in principle, though it depends on how it would be played out in reality. “If the battle is perceived by the Saudis and Turks as a battle over the ruins of Israel, and that it would accelerate its marginalization and eventual surrender, then it would not serve a good purpose for Israel,” he says.
However, adds Wurmser, “if Israel would take a strong role as judge in the dispute by being the power broker, then this would put Israel in a position of power.”
The former U.S. official says this is also how the United States needs to approach its role in the Middle East so as not to be marginalized and lose its influence.
Therefore, he notes, Israel needs to take a strong position and not surrender Jerusalem to the Muslims. He suggests that when Israel is invested in a side publicly, “then that side can hold it hostage such as what Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas does.”
Abbas frequently threatens to cut ties with Israel and stop security cooperation even though he never follows through, says Wurmser, yet “it makes Israel appear weak and without leverage in the situation.”