Crisis and Realignment

Jordan Table of Contents

The United States replaced Britain as Jordan's principal source of foreign aid, but it did so without a bilateral treaty or other formal alliance mechanisms. In April 1957, the White House officially noted that President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles regarded "the independence and integrity of Jordan as vital." Although Hussein did not specifically request aid under the Eisenhower Doctrine--by which the United States pledged military and economic aid to any country asking for help in resisting communist influence--he did state publicly that Jordan's security was threatened by communism. Within twenty-four hours of Hussein's request for economic assistance, Jordan received an emergency financial aid grant of US$10 million from the United States--the first of a long series of United States grants. Washington expanded existing development aid programs and initiated military aid.

In seeking a viable, long-term arrangement for political stability in the face of the hostile, Nasser-style revolutionary nationalism then prevalent in the Middle East, Jordan turned to neighboring Iraq. Iraq, far larger and more populous than Jordan, was also far wealthier because of its oil and other resources. Iraq had usually supported Jordan in Arab councils, although without deep involvement, since the 1948 war. Its conservative government had taken Iraq into the Baghdad Pact in 1955 to ensure continued Western support against the Soviet Union or, more particularly, against radical Arab movements.

On February 1, 1958, Egypt and Syria announced the integration of their two countries to form the United Arab Republic (UAR). This development was greeted with great enthusiasm by the new nationalist advocates of Arab unity, but it made the position of conservative or moderate regimes more perilous. The initial phase of Jordanian-Iraqi negotiation was quickly concluded, and on February 14, 1958, Hussein and his cousin, King Faisal II, issued a proclamation joining the Hashimite kingdoms of Iraq and Jordan in a federation called the Arab Union. Faisal was to be head of state and Hussein deputy head of state.

The Arab Union, however, was short-lived. The Hashimite monarchy in Iraq was overthrown on July 14, 1958, in a swift, predawn coup executed by officers of the Nineteenth Brigade under the leadership of Brigadier Abd al Karim Qasim and Colonel Abd as Salaam Arif. The coup was triggered when King Hussein, fearing that an anti-Western revolt in Lebanon might spread to Jordan, requested Iraqi assistance. Instead of moving toward Jordan, Colonel Arif led a battalion into Baghdad and immediately proclaimed a new republic and the end of the old regime. An Iraqi motorized brigade under the command of Brigadier Qasim seized control of Baghdad. King Faisal and other members of the Iraqi royal family were murdered. Hussein, enraged and overcome by shock and grief, threatened to send the Jordanian army into Iraq to avenge Faisal's murder and restore the Arab Union. His civilian ministers, however, advised against taking this course. In Iraq the army and police supported the coup, and Qasim became president-dictator, taking Iraq out of the Arab Union and the Baghdad Pact.

Jordan was isolated as never before. Hussein appealed both to the United States and to Britain for help. The United States instituted an airlift of petroleum, and Britain flew troops into Amman to stabilize the regime. Ironically, these aircraft overflew Israel, because clearances for alternate routes over Arab countries could not be obtained in time. These events in Iraq and Jordan coincided with the landing of United States troops in Lebanon to bolster the regime there.

For some weeks, the political atmosphere in Jordan was explosive, but the government kept order through limited martial law. The army continued its unquestioning loyalty to the king, and the Israeli frontier remained quiet.

The ensuing two-year period of relative tranquility was broken in August 1960 when the pro-Western prime minister, Hazza al Majali who had been reappointed in May 1959, was killed by the explosion of a time bomb concealed in his desk. Analysts speculated that the conspirators expected the killing to generate a public uprising. It had precisely the opposite effect; beduin troops who moved into Amman maintained order, and Hussein appointed a new conservative prime minister, Bahjat at Talhuni. The plot was traced to Syria and further identified with Cairo. Four suspects were caught, convicted, and hanged, and the army made a show of force. In June 1961, Talhuni was replaced by Wasfi at Tal to improve relations with Egypt, after Cairo implicated Amman for influencing Damascus's decision to secede from the United Arab Republic.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress