"Operation White Cloak"
The Pope's Mideast trip might already be well underway, but the weeklong journey intensifies to no small degree come Monday, when Benedict XVI departs Jordan for the religious and diplomatic minefield of Israel.
Though a degree of tension remains at the edges following the global firestorm that erupted with January's de-excommunication of the Lefevbrite/SSPX bishops (viz. Williamson), the Holy See's policy of relative equanimity between the Jewish state and the rights of its Palestinian neighbors sticks even more in the craw of some Israelis, while some Muslims remain incensed over B16's use of a 14th century quote that depicted the legacy of the prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman" at his well-known 2006 lecture at Regensburg....
And all that just for starters.
Given the backdrop, a security force of some 80,000 police, soldiers and intelligence agents has been assembled to protect the Pope during his five-day stay on the Jordan's other side... an undertaking that's been dubbed "Operation White Cloak":
Every step of the pope's visit will be tracked in minute detail in a security headquarters established especially for the pope's stay. "This visit has national and international implications," says Israeli police commissioner Dudi Cohen.Again, given the backdrop, the pivotal moment of the entire week could well come Monday night, when the pontiff visits Yad Vashem, Jerusalem's Holocaust memorial.
"It's our job to make sure there are no incidents."
Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence agency, is particularly concerned with the possibility of an attack carried out by radical Muslims. Citing those fears, the agency was able to convince the pope to not take his "Popemobile" along the route to Nazareth, where he is scheduled to celebrate mass. Nazareth, the town in which the Bible says Jesus grew up, now has a majority Muslim population. And the pope's visit might remind many of them of the speech he gave in the southern German city of Regensburg in 2006 that unleashed a torrent of protests in the Muslim world....
"The pope has declared war on Islam," Sheikh Nazim Abu Salim, the imam of the Shihab-e-Din Mosque in downtown Nazareth, told the Jerusalem Post. As Salim sees it, by visiting the Western Wall, the pope is "legitimizing the occupation" by the Israelis of places in the Old City that are sacred to Islam. Muslims view the Western Wall as being part of the al-Aska Mosque and, according to the radical preacher, Muslims must prevent the pope from entering such sites. Nor does the sheikh exclude the possibility of violence or rioting. "We don't have the power to control people," Salim said. "We can't prevent people from expressing how they feel or the manner in which they express it."
Even many Jews are not welcoming the pope with open arms. During his brief time as pope, he has upset Jews on a number of occasions, and some feel he has done much to set back progress made by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, when it comes to reconciling Christians and Jews. When John Paul II visited the Holy Land in 2000 for a millennium year tour, Israelis welcomed him with great euphoria....
Another thing that has not warmed Jews to the new pope was when he honored Pope Pius XII on the 50th anniversary of his death -- despite his controversial role during the Nazi era.
The wreath-laying and speech at the hallowed ground will be Benedict's first public stop in the city. A wall-plaque at the memorial's museum remains on display accusing Pius XII of "silence" amid the toll of the Nazi regime.