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The Temple Mount Sifting Project, Fourteen Years On

In the 1990s, the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement (since outlawed by Israel as a terrorist group), together with the Jordan-run waqf, which administers Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, decided to build a large new mosque on the Temple Mount. To enable construction—and in violation of Israeli law—thousands of tons of dirt were removed from the Mount, thus making impossible a proper archaeological excavation where artifacts can be evaluated based on where they were found, but also making a huge quantity of artifacts accessible to Israeli researchers. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira, realizing this, began the Temple Mount Sifting Project, staffed largely by volunteers, in which the dirt is mined for archaeological treasure. Here they report on some of their most significant finds, beginning with some of the oldest:

The finds . . . include five arrowheads; three are made of iron and the other two are made of bronze. One of these bronze arrowheads dates to the beginning of the First Temple period (10th century BCE) and is Judahite, the other dates to the last days of the Temple [6th century BCE] and is Babylonian. It was likely shot into the city by the Babylonian army during the attack which led to the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. . . .

To date, the Sifting Project has recovered more than 6,000 coins, ranging from the first Judean coins minted during the Persian period (tiny silver coins dating from the 4th century BCE) to others minted in modern times. These coins attest to the rich past of the Temple Mount. A particularly exciting find is a rare silver coin minted during the first year of the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome (66/67 CE). The coin features a branch with three pomegranates and an inscription in ancient Hebrew script reading “holy Jerusalem.” The reverse side of the coin features an omer (an ancient half-cup measuring unit) and is inscribed “half shekel.” The coin is well preserved although it bears scars of the conflagration that destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE. . . .

Finds from the Byzantine Period (324–638 CE) include about a half-million mosaic tesserae which are unique in their size and style, thousands of roof-tile fragments, [and] pieces of Corinthian capitals and chancel screens from church structures and floor tiles. The plethora of Byzantine-period artifacts stands in contrast to the commonly held view that in the Byzantine era the Temple Mount was desolate or, according to some sources, a garbage dump. Clearly, this view is mistaken.

It is especially worth noting that the remains of church structures contradict the commonly held belief that there were no churches on the Temple Mount during this period. In fact, one of the authors (Dvira) discovered unpublished archival evidence of a Byzantine mosaic floor that lies under the earliest phase of the al-Aqsa mosque.

Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Byzantine Empire, History & Ideas, Islamic Movement, Jerusalem, Temple Mount

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen