Towards the end of the fifth Crusade, in the year 1219, al-Mu'azzam, Saladin’s nephew, the Ayyubid sultan of Damascus, ordered the walls of Jerusalem to be razed. The Sultan’s intention was to reduce Jerusalem’s status as a military citadel. His decision was motivated by a fear that the city’s loss would result in a repeat of the first Crusade’s bloodbath of 1099, and that its subsequent deployment as a crusader fortress would dominate the surrounding territories for years to come. He concluded that if he could not defend the city he also did not want to besiege it in the near the future.
His decree was a partial success in that razing the defences of the city really did reduce Jerusalem’s strategic and economic importance to the status of a mere village. However, as an anticipatory military intervention, al-Muazzam’s decision proved doubly unlucky in that it seems he took the road which otherwise was not taken. He chose against the path of history.
The Crusaders’ never reached Jerusalem. The fifth Crusade resulted in utter failure, it was defeated in Egypt by the Nile in flood, and in the Holy Land by sickness, deficiencies in the supply chain, and by the failed sieges of Jordan and Mount Tabor. Even so, the abject defeat of Crusaders was not so much imposed as self-inflicted, and brought no special gain to the Ayyubid dynasty. Jerusalem was ceded to Frederick II following the 6th Crusade in 1229.
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