The Guerrilla Crisis

Jordan Table of Contents

In the wake of the June 1967 War, Hussein's government faced the critical problems of repairing a shattered economy, providing for the welfare of the refugees, obtaining external aid, readjusting foreign policy, and rebuilding the armed forces. Internally, however, the major problem was the continuing confrontation with the several Palestinian guerrilla organizations.

The Arab League heads of state met in Khartoum at the end of August 1967. The conference reached four major decisions generally considered to represent the views of Arab moderates: resumption of oil production, which some oil-producing states had suspended during the war; continued nonrecognition of and nonnegotiation with Israel, individually and collectively; continued closure of the Suez Canal and the elimination of all foreign military bases in Arab territory; and provision of financial subsidies aid to Egypt and Jordan by Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Kuwait. The total annual subsidy promised for the indefinite future amounted to the equivalent of US$378 million, of which Jordan was to receive about US$112 million. Donor states at first regularly paid their shares in quarterly installments, but Libya and Kuwait withdrew their support to Jordan during the 1970-71 war between the Jordanian government and the fedayeen.

In addition to the Khartoum subsidies, Jordan also received grants from Qatar, and the shaykhdom of Abu Dhabi, and a special grant of US$42 million from Saudi Arabia for arms purchases. Aid also came from Britain and West Germany, with whom Jordan had resumed relations. Although direct United States aid had been terminated, substantial long-term government loans were extended to Jordan for emergency relief, development, and military assistance. In February 1968, the United States resumed arms shipments to Jordan. Jordan narrowly averted financial disaster.

After months of diplomatic wrangling, on November 22, 1967, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242 as a guideline for a Middle East settlement. The principal provisions of the resolution proclaimed the inadmissibility of territorial acquisition by war; withdrawal of Israeli forces from areas occupied in the June 1967 War; termination of all states of belligerency; acknowledgment of the sovereignty of all states in the area--including Israel--within secure and recognized boundaries; freedom of navigation on all international waterways in the area; and a just settlement of the refugee problem. Jordan, Egypt, and Israel all accepted this resolution in principle but each country interpreted it differently.

King Hussein has been the most consistent advocate of UN Resolution 242. He viewed it as the most viable means by which the Palestinian problem could be resolved while also preserving an important Jordanian role in the West Bank.

The intractability of the Palestinian problem has been due in large part to the widely differing perspectives that evolved after the June 1967 War. For the Israelis, in the midst of the nationalist euphoria that followed the war, talk of exchanging newly captured territories for peace had little public appeal. The government of Levi Eshkol followed a two-track policy with respect to the territories that would continue under future Labor Party governments: on the one hand, it stated a willingness to negotiate, while on the other, it laid plans to create Jewish settlements in the disputed territories. Thus, immediately following the war, Eshkol stated that he was willing to negotiate "everything" for a full peace, which would include free passage through the Suez Canal and the Strait of Tiran and a solution to the refugee problem in the context of regional cooperation. This was followed in November 1967 with his acceptance of UN Security Council Resolution 242. At the same time, Eshkol's government announced plans for the resettlement of the Old City of Jerusalem, of the Etzion Bloc (kibbutzim on the Bethlehem-Hebron road wiped out by Palestinians in the 1948-49 War), and for kibbutzim in the northern sector of the Golan Heights. Plans also were unveiled for new neighborhoods around Jerusalem, near the old buildings of Hebrew University and near the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus.

The 1967 defeat radicalized the Palestinians, who had looked to the Arab countries to defeat first the Yishuv (the Jewish community of Palestine before 1948), and after 1948 the State of Israel, so that they could regain their homeland. The PLO had no role in the June 1967 War. After the succession of Arab failures in conventional warfare against Israel, however, the Palestinians decided to adopt guerrilla warfare tactics as the most effective method of attacking and defeating Israel. In February 1969, Arafat (who remained the leader of Al Fatah) became head of the PLO. By early 1970, at least seven guerrilla organizations were identified in Jordan. One of the most important organizations was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) led by George Habash. Although the PLO sought to integrate these various groups and announced from time to time that this process had occurred, they were never effectively united.

At first by conviction and then by political necessity, Hussein sought accommodation with the fedayeen and provided training sites and assistance. In Jordan's internal politics, however, the main issue between 1967 and 1971 was the struggle between the government and the guerrilla organizations for political control of the country. Based in the refugee camps, the fedayeen virtually developed a state within a state, easily obtaining funds and arms from both the Arab states and Eastern Europe and openly flouting Jordanian law.

As the guerrilla effort mounted, Israel retaliated quickly and with increasing effectiveness. In March 1968, an Israeli brigade attacked the Jordanian village of Al Karamah, said to be the guerrilla capital. Although the brigade inflicted damage, it was driven back and in the process suffered substantial losses. The incident boosted Palestinian morale and gave the PLO instant prestige within the Arab community. In reprisal, Israel launched heavy attacks on Irbid in June 1968 and on As Salt in August. It soon became obvious to the PLO that the generally open terrain of the West Bank did not provide the kind of cover needed for classic guerrilla operations. Moreover, the Palestinian population residing in the territories had not formed any significant armed resistance against the Israeli occupation. By late 1968, the main fedayeen activities in Jordan seemed to shift from fighting Israel to attempts to overthrow Hussein.

A major guerrilla-government confrontation occurred in November 1968 when the government sought to disarm the refugee camps, but civil war was averted by a compromise that favored the Palestinians. The threat to Hussein's authority and the heavy Israeli reprisals that followed each guerrilla attack became a matter of grave concern to the King. His loyal beduin army attempted to suppress guerrilla activity, which led to sporadic outbursts of fighting between the fedayeen and the army during the first half of 1970. In June 1970, an Arab mediation committee intervened to halt two weeks of serious fighting between the two sides.

In June Hussein designated Abd al Munim Rifai to head a "reconciliation" cabinet that included more opposition elements than any other government since that of Nabulsi in 1957. Although the composition of the cabinet maintained a traditional balance between the East Bank and the West Bank, it included a majority of guerrilla sympathizers, particularly in the key portfolios of defense, foreign affairs, and interior. But the king's action did not reflect a new domestic policy; rather, it indicated Hussein's hope that a nationalist cabinet would support peace negotiations generated by a proposed UN peace mission to be conducted by Gunnar Jarring. On June 9, 1970, Rifai and Arafat signed an agreement conciliatory to the fedayeen. According to its provisions, the government allowed the commandos freedom of movement within Jordan, agreed to refrain from antiguerrilla action, and expressed its support for the fedayeen in the battle against Israel. In return, the commandos pledged to remove their bases from Amman and other major cities, to withdraw armed personnel from the Jordanian capital, and to show respect for law and order.

Small-scale clashes continued throughout the summer of 1970, however; and by early September, the guerrilla groups controlled several strategic positions in Jordan, including the oil refinery near Az Zarqa. Meanwhile, the fedayeen were also calling for a general strike of the Jordanian population and were organizing a civil disobedience campaign. The situation became explosive when, as part of a guerrilla campaign to undermine the Jarring peace talks to which Egypt, Israel, and Jordan had agreed, the PFLP launched an airplane hijacking campaign.

Within the space of two hours on September 6, PFLP gangs hijacked a TWA jet, a Swissair jet, and made an unsuccessful attempt to seize control of an El Al airplane. About two hours later, another PFLP group hijacked a Pan Am jet and forced the crew to fly to Beirut airport, where the airplane landed almost out of fuel. The next day the airliner was flown to the Cairo airport, where it was blown up only seconds after the 176 passengers and crew had completed their three-minute forced evacuation.

King Hussein viewed the hijackings as a direct threat to his authority in Jordan. In response, on September 16 he reaffirmed martial law and named Brigadier Muhammad Daud to head a cabinet composed of army officers. At the same time, the king appointed Field Marshal Habis al Majali, a fiercely proroyalist beduin, commander in chief of the armed forces and military governor of Jordan. Hussein gave Majali full powers to implement the martial law regulations and to quell the fedayeen. The new government immediately ordered the fedayeen to lay down their arms and to evacuate the cities. On the same day, Arafat became supreme commander of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), the regular military force of the PLO.

During a bitterly fought ten-day civil war, primarily between the PLA and Jordan Arab Army, Syria sent about 200 tanks to aid the fedayeen. On September 17, however, Iraq began a rapid withdrawal of its 12,000-man force stationed near Az Zarqa. The United States Navy dispatched the Sixth Fleet to the eastern Mediterranean, and Israel undertook "precautionary military deployments" to aid Hussein, if necessary, against the guerrilla forces. Under attack from the Jordanian army and in response to outside pressures, the Syrian forces began to withdraw from Jordan on September 24, having lost more than half their armor in fighting with the Jordanians. The fedayeen found themselves on the defensive throughout Jordan and agreed on September 25 to a cease-fire. At the urging of the Arab heads of state, Hussein and Arafat signed the cease-fire agreement in Cairo on September 27. The agreement called for rapid withdrawal of the guerrilla forces from Jordanian cities and towns to positions "appropriate" for continuing the battle with Israel and for the release of prisoners by both sides. A supreme supervisory committee was to implement the provisions of the agreement. On September 26, Hussein appointed a new cabinet; however, army officers continued to head the key defense and interior ministries.

On October 13, Hussein and Arafat signed a further agreement in Amman, under which the fedayeen were to recognize Jordanian sovereignty and the king's authority, to withdraw their armed forces from towns and villages, and to refrain from carrying arms outside their camps. In return the government agreed to grant amnesty to the fedayeen for incidents that had occurred during the civil war.

The civil war caused great material destruction in Jordan, and the number of fighters killed on all sides was estimated as high as 3,500. In spite of the September and October agreements, fighting continued, particularly in Amman, Irbid, and Jarash, where guerrilla forces had their main bases. Hussein appointed Wasfi at Tal as his new prime minister and minister of defense to head a cabinet of fifteen civilian and two military members. The cabinet also included seven Palestinians. Tal, known to be a staunch opponent of the guerrilla movement, was directed by Hussein to comply with the cease-fire agreements; furthermore, according to Hussein's written directive, the government's policy was to be based on "the restoration of confidence between the Jordanian authorities and the Palestinian resistance movement, cooperation with the Arab states, the strengthening of national unity, striking with an iron hand at all persons spreading destructive rumors, paying special attention to the armed forces and the freeing of the Arab lands occupied by Israel in the war of June 1967." The closing months of 1970 and the first six months of 1971 were marked by a series of broken agreements and by continued battles between the guerrilla forces and the Jordanian army, which continued its drive to oust the fedayeen from the populated areas.

Persistent pressure by the army compelled the fedayeen to withdraw from Amman in April 1971. Feeling its existence threatened, Al Fatah abandoned its earlier posture of noninvolvement in the internal affairs of an Arab state and issued a statement demanding the overthrow of the Jordanian "puppet separatist authority." In a subsequent early May statement, it called for "national rule" in Jordan. Against this background of threats to his authority, Hussein struck at the remaining guerrilla forces in Jordan.

In response to rumors that the PLO was planning to form a government-in-exile, Hussein in early June directed Tal to "deal conclusively and without hesitation with the plotters who want to establish a separate Palestinian state and destroy the unity of the Jordanian and Palestinian people." On July 13, the Jordanian army undertook an offensive against fedayeen bases about fifty kilometers northwest of Amman in the Ajlun area--the fedayeen's last stronghold. Tal announced that the Cairo and Amman agreements, which had regulated relations between the fedayeen and the Jordanian governments, were no longer operative. On July 19, the government announced that the remainder of the bases in northern Jordan had been destroyed and that 2,300 of the 2,500 fedayeen had been arrested. A few days later, many of the captured Palestinians were released either to leave for other Arab countries or to return to a peaceful life in Jordan. Hussein became virtually isolated from the rest of the Arab world, which accused him of harsh treatment of the fedayeen and denounced him as being responsible for the deaths of so many of his fellow Arabs.

In November members of the Black September terrorist group--who took their name from the civil war of September 1970--avenged the deaths of fellow fedayeen by assassinating Prime Minister Tal in Cairo. In December the group again struck out against Hussein in an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the Jordanian ambassador to Britain. Hussein alleged that Libya's Colonel Muammar al Qadhafi was involved in a plot to overthrow the monarchy.

In March 1973, Jordanian courts convicted seventeen Black September fedayeen charged with plotting to kidnap the prime minister and other cabinet ministers and to hold them hostage in exchange for the release of a few hundred fedayeen captured during the civil war. Hussein subsequently commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment "for humanitarian reasons" and, in response to outside Arab pressures, in September released the prisoners-- including their leader Muhammad Daud Auda (also known as Abu Daud)- -under a general amnesty.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress