"Battle of the Bulge"

"Battle of the Bulge"

For the third time in the past six years, Muslim authorities appear to be setting up a Temple Mount controversy as a pretense for violence against Israel. This time, however, it could come at the expense of the lives of thousands of Ramadan worshippers.

As has been reported internationally during the past several months, Israeli archeologists have identified a 35-foot wide bulge near the southern end of the retaining walls of the Temple Mount. First noticed about two years ago, a political firestorm has erupted concerning whether the bulge actually is there, and who has the right and authority to make repairs.

Genuine concern exists among archeologists concerning the structural integrity of the Temple Mount, and its ability to withstand the weight of the tens of thousands of worshippers currently congregating there for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"There's no doubt that it will collapse before long," Dr. Eilat Mazar, a Hebrew university archaeologist, said recently in The Guardian. "The question is by how much, and whether it will bring down other structures nearby, including the Al Aqsa mosque."

Of additional concern is the political position of the Waqf -- the Muslim authority given responsibility to maintain the Temple Mount area -- and their threats that if a collapse occurs, Israel will be directly to blame.

Adnan Husseini, director of the Waqf, was interviewed in Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times. He said: "This is something that we are able to fix, but Israelis want to use this to create more tension in the atmosphere... Their real agenda is to take over the place."

"The Israeli government will be responsible if there are lives lost," he said.

Sounds all too familiar.

Similar refrains resonated at the onset of violence in September 2000 when Arabs rationalized their violence (since proved to be pre-meditated) on the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount.

Four years earlier, Arab rioting broke out against the backdrop of the completion of an Israeli archeological tunnel running along the outside base of the western retaining wall. This tunnel never breached the Temple Mount itself, and sits hundreds of yards away from the Al Aqsa mosque -- actually pointing in the opposite direction.

Nevertheless, Arab riots erupted based on claims that the tunnel was an Israeli attempt to undermine the Muslim mosques.

The current damage to the southern retaining wall and subsequent bulge is attributed to a construction project started by the Waqf in 1999 to open a large mosque in a vault known as Solomon's Stables. In the process, some key structural supports were removed. Additionally, the laying of paving stones for the mosque may have created a drainage problem that has contributed to the bulge.

There is another concern. An Israeli archeology committee claims that the Islamic authority is trying to eradicate archeological evidence that a Jewish Temple ever stood on the site, and that tons of priceless archeological relics have been hauled off and/or thrown away.

"This is one of the most serious archeological crimes ever committed in this country," Gabriel Barkai told Newsweek.

In the event of a collapse during this year's Ramadan or afterward, HonestReporting members should be keenly aware of the background facts, in order to analyze the accuracy of reporting.

For the better part of 1,000 years, the Jewish Temple stood on the Mount, a huge, rectangular mountain-top courtyard closed in by four supporting walls. The most sanctified section of the Temple (the Holy of Holies) rested nearly perpendicular to the middle section of the western retaining wall of the mountain. The current Western Wall plaza sits adjacent to this section facing the outside of the retaining wall.

A little more than 1,930 years ago, the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. The courtyard lay virtually barren until the Muslim conquest almost 600 years later and the subsequent construction of the Al Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock.

Fast forward to the summer of 1967 and the Six Day War. Israel retook the Old City of Jerusalem -- Temple Mount included -- from the Jordanians who had exiled the Jews and assumed exclusive control 19 years earlier in Israel's War of Independence. In 1967, the Israelis, eager to restore the status quo and to show respect for Muslim holy sites, ceded political authority over the Temple Mount to the Waqf, thus beginning a tenuous relationship culminating with these current events.

A temporary compromise in "the battle of the bulge" was reached last month, allowing a team of Jordanian engineers to inspect the wall and take samples back to Amman.

As Gabriel Barkai told the Los Angeles Times: "I'm not a prophet. I can't say exactly when, but there is no question that it will collapse. All you need is a big group to congregate up there for the equilibrium to start shifting. It's a matter of time."

Daniel Pipes says: "This disaster would lead at least to wide-scale fighting in Jerusalem and a heated international crisis. If things really went wrong, it could precipitate a wave of violence in Europe and a full-blown Arab-Israeli war. [Or] it could unleash an end-of-days messianism in three monotheistic religions, with unforeseeable consequences."

Newsweek has termed this "The Armageddon Wall." Stay tuned.