Development and Disaster
By early 1964, Arab governments and Palestinian spokesmen had
become alarmed by an Israeli project to draw water from Lake
Tiberias to irrigate the Negev Desert. Nasser invited the Arab
heads of state to attend a summit conference in Cairo in January
1964 at which the principal issue was the Jordan water question.
Despite Syria's militant rhetoric, the conference rejected the idea
of provoking a war because--it was argued--the Arab states lacked
a unified military command. Instead, three alternative courses of
action were approved: the diversion of the tributary sources of the
Jordan River north of Lake Tiberias in Lebanon and Syria; the
establishment of the United Arab Command under an Egyptian
commander; and the recognition of the new Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO), headed by a former Jerusalem lawyer, Ahmad
Shuqayri (also cited as Shukairi), as the representative of
Palestinian resistance against Israel. The Cairo Conference of
January 1964 ended in an euphoric atmosphere of goodwill and
Talhuni became prime minister for the second time in July 1964,
pledging his government to implement the spirit of the Cairo
Conference "according to the king's instructions." Jordan
cultivated friendship with Egypt. In May 1965, Jordan joined nine
other Arab states in breaking relations with the Federal Republic
of Germany (West Germany) because of its recognition of Israel.
Jordan and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement in August defining for
the first time the boundary between the two countries. Under this
agreement, Jordan gave up some territory in the southeast but was
able to gain an extension of about eighteen kilometers down the
gulf from the crowded port of Al Aqabah.
Almost from the start, trouble developed between the PLO and
Hussein's government. Shuqayri, famous for his often hysterical
political rhetoric, had organized the PLO in Jerusalem in 1964 with
the objective of liberating Palestine in cooperation with all Arab
states but without interfering in their internal affairs or
claiming sovereignty in the West Bank. Conflict arose because the
PLO attempted to assume quasi-governmental functions, such as
taxing Palestinians and distributing arms to villagers in the West
Bank and among the refugees, acts that infringed on Jordanian
sovereignty. The guerrilla organization, Al Fatah, was formed in
Damascus with Syrian assistance in December 1957, under the
leadership of Yasir Arafat.
Jordanian policy since 1949 had been to avoid border incidents
and terrorism that would generate Israeli reprisals. Al Fatah and
the PLO, however, carried out raids and sabotage against Israel
without clearance from either the United Arab Command or Jordan.
These attacks, although planned in Syria, most often were launched
into Israel by infiltration through Lebanon or Jordan. Israeli
reprisals against selected West Bank targets became harsher and
more frequent from May 1965 onward. Meanwhile, Syrian propaganda
against Hussein became increasingly strident. In July 1966, when
Hussein severed official endorsement and support for the PLO, both
that organization and the Syrian government turned against him. In
reprisal for the terrorist attacks by the fedayeen (Palestinian
guerrillas), in November Israel assaulted the West Bank village of
As Samu. Israel was censured by the UN, but public rioting against
the Jordanian government broke out among the inhabitants of the
West Bank. The levels of rioting exceeded any previous experience.
As in the past, Hussein used the army to restore public order.
Political pressure against Hussein mounted, however, along with
armed clashes on the Syria-Jordan border.
Tension also mounted on the Syria-Israel border, where a land
and air engagement took place on April 7, 1967. Syria and Jordan
severely criticized Egypt for failing to send support. In mid-May
Egypt commenced an extensive military build-up in Sinai in response
to Syrian allegations that Syria was in imminent danger of invasion
by Israel. Nasser declared a state of emergency on May 16 and two
days later demanded removal of the United Nations Emergency Force
(UNEF) from Sinai, where it had served as a peacekeeping force
since 1957. The UN secretary general acceded to Nasser's demand.
On May 23-24, Nasser announced the closure to Israeli shipping
of the Strait of Tiran at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, a
measure that Israel immediately declared to be an act of war.
Hussein quickly decided that this time it would be impossible for
Jordan to stay out of the impending conflict. He hurriedly
proceeded to Cairo and on May 30 signed a military alliance with
Egypt. Hussein's move represented a response to political pressures
at home and the fulfillment of basic pan-Arab commitments. The
alliance put the Jordanian army under the field command of an
Egyptian general officer.
On June 5, Israel launched a preemptive attack against Egyptian
forces deployed in Sinai. The Israeli prime minister, Levi Eshkol,
attempted in vain to contact Hussein through UN channels to keep
him out of the war. The Egyptian field marshal in overall command
of Arab forces ordered Jordanian artillery to open fire on Israeli
positions, and Jordan's small air force conducted a bombing raid in
the Tel Aviv area. Within hours, however, Israeli warplanes had
effectively eliminated the Arab air forces on the ground. After
only two days of combat, Jordan's main armored unit had been
defeated. Hard fighting continued, as Hussein was determined to
hold as much ground as possible in the event that a cease-fire was
arranged. By the time he agreed to a truce on June 7, Israeli
forces had seized the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem.
Of all the Arab belligerents, Jordan, which could least afford
it, lost most in the war. Government figures listed over 6,000
troops killed or missing. During the short war, about 224,000
refugees--many of whom had first been refugees from the 1948-49
war--fled from the West Bank to the East Bank. One-third to onehalf of the country's best agricultural land and its main tourist
attractions were lost to Israel. On June 27, the Israeli parliament
(Knesset) formally annexed the Old City of Jerusalem, an act that
the United States and many other nations refused to recognize.
Data as of December 1989