Ben-Gvir gave Netanyahu a thumbs-up as soon as he saw the opportunity. Barely a few hours had passed since the formation of the most right-leaning government in Israel's history, led by a Knesset dominated by the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc, and the newly appointed Minister of National Security, directly responsible for the Police, visited the Esplanade of the Mosques on Tuesday morning, ignoring Bibi's advice, to send a message of strength.
He followed in the footsteps of the late former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who toured the compound as opposition leader all the way to the Temple Mount in 2000.
Sharon did so escort by a thousand security agents. Ben-Gvir's walk did not require the same deployment, not least because he appeared in the area early in the morning when no one was there. He only stayed for a quarter of an hour, just long enough to record a video for his social networks in which he denounced the alleged "racist discrimination" suffered by Jews who are forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount. But he did so, above all, to challenge his extensive list of opponents.
In the video posted on Twitter by the leader of the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), the Dome of the Rock, a place of worship for Islam, can be seen in the background as he tells the media that his visits to the Esplanade of the Mosques will continue.
Ben-Gvir's first appearance as a member of the government threatened to provoke riots in an area used to experiencing violence between Israelis and Palestinians that has claimed lives. Instead, the arsonist minister's visit triggered a wave of condemnation from Arab states and organisations that considered his action a provocation, as well as a serious violation of the sanctity of the site.
Among the Middle Eastern countries that have condemned the event are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
Abu Dhabi described Ben-Gvir's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque as an "assault". Emirati foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed discussed in a telephone conversation with his Turkish and Jordanian counterparts ways to 'protect' the compound and the delicate situation in East Jerusalem. But the official Emirati media made no reference to Netanyahu's imminent visit to the UAE, with which he normalised relations under the 2020 Abraham Accords.
The government headed by Mohammed bin Zayed, alias MBZ, went so far as to contact China to take the issue to the UN Security Council. The UN body is scheduled to meet this Thursday to discuss the issue, although the meeting is unlikely to materialise in the form of concrete actions or formal condemnations.
The Saudi Arabian foreign ministry issued a statement denouncing the Israeli minister's "provocative action", while the Egyptian government, a key mediator for stability in the Gaza Strip, warned of "the negative consequences of such actions for security and stability" in the area. Indeed, the Hamas terrorist group, which had threatened to retaliate if Ben-Gvir visited the Esplanade of the Mosques, attempted to launch a projectile into southern Israel, but its trajectory fell short, and it struck inside territory controlled by the Islamic Resistance Movement itself.
Ben-Gvir's surprise appearance set off alarm bells in the Arab and Muslim world that Israel's new government, which is full of right-wing extremists and ultra-Orthodox, could change the legal status quo governing the compound. Current regulations prohibit Jews from praying on the Temple Mount as it is considered the holiest site in Judaism, where the Second Temple of antiquity is believed to have been erected. But this trend is being reversed by rabbis close to the Religious Zionist camp.
For Muslims, the Esplanade of the Mosques is also sacred. It is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most important shrine in Islam after Mecca and Medina, as well as the Dome of the Rock, from where the Prophet Mohammed is believed to have ascended to heaven.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh denounced the visit as an attempt to turn the mosque complex "into a Jewish temple". Ben-Gvir himself claimed in the election campaign that he intended to change the religious status quo on the Temple Mount so that Jews could pray there. Indeed, on the eve of the 1 November elections, he announced that he would demand that Netanyahu introduce "equal rights for Jews".
But in a statement, the longest-serving prime minister in Israel's history, back in power for the sixth time 18 months after losing the leadership, affirmed his commitment to "strictly maintain" the status quo. "The claim that there has been a change in the status quo is unfounded," said Netanyahu, who will have to balance the balancing act to prevent his new government partners from further inflaming coexistence.