The Threat Posed by Al-Aqsa Mosque Closing in Jerusalem

The mosque was at the heart of the Second Intifada.

— -- The closing of al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem has diplomats holding their breath because the site has been a flashpoint for violence in the past and was the trigger for a five-year long spasm of bloodshed known as the Second Intifada.

The mosque was closed this week after a prominent right-wing rabbi Yehuda Glick was shot and critically wounded. Glick was part of a growing movement among religiously militant Jews demanding more prayer rights at the al Aqsa compound.

The Israelis call it the Temple Mount and consider it to be where Judaism began and the site of two previous temples.

Control over these sites, and perceptions of encroachment, make for volatile politics.

The fighting derailed a U.S. sponsored peace process and raged until 2005, resulting in the deaths of about 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis.

The closure this week comes while anger still simmers over the Israeli invasion of Gaza earlier this year.

Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, said he does not believe the current closure will prompt another uprising, but he warned it could add to the growing violence against Israelis by individual Palestinians.

"What we have been seeing for a few years now, but with more force in the last few months, is a kind of unstructured violence, attacks on civilians," Zalzberg said. He cited as an example the Palestinian man who drove his car into a crowd of Israelis earlier this month.

"They are people who are not affiliated with groups like Hamas," he said, referring to the militant group that has dominated Gaza in recent years. "And because it's individuals, it's incredibly difficult for the Israeli police to prevent."

Closing the mosque "will feed this," Zalzberg said. If the mosque compound remains closed for any length of time, Zalzberg predicts, "We will see riots."