The burning of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jersusalem has heightened the tension between the Arabs and the Israelis. The incident provided fuel for President Nasser to stoke the fires for a “holy war” between the Muslim faithful and the Jews to reverse the defeat suffered in the six-day war two years ago. That the mosque burning could precipitate a war is obvious; Nasser has used the incident to unify the Arab world against Israel and to create a frenzied response based on an irrational, visceral reaction.

Even the casual observer should realize that the Israelis are not so stupid as to set fire to the mosque and are not interested in goading Egypt and the Arab world into another war. They already possess all the territory they can defend and have nothing to gain by an outbreak of hostilities. And they certainly are aware of the international clamor that would result.

On the face of it, one must regard as credible the confession of an Australian Christian sheep-shearer that he set the fire. (He was said to be a member of the “Church of God”; whether this group is related to one of the many American denominations known as Church of God was not immediately determined.) Many people believe that God promised Palestine to the Jews through Abraham, and some also are convinced that the Temple must be rebuilt before Christ’s second advent. In this view, then, to destroy the mosque is to make possible the rebuilding of the Temple. By now most Christians have heard, via the grapevine, a “fact” for which there is no support: that all the stones for the new Temple have been cut and are ready for assembly on the site of the mosque once it is destroyed.

Whatever may be the merit for the eschatological view that the Temple must be rebuilt before Messiah comes, surely God doesn’t want arsonists to take it upon themselves to fulfill His plan.

The Arabs would do well to accept the Israeli explanation and to cool the Mideast tensions as quickly as possible. A war will help no one, least of all Egypt, whose past military ineptitude hardly suggests a satisfactory military solution to a problem that should be resolved at the conference table.

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