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History, Growing Tensions and War with Israel

point of civil war, Palestine Liberation Organization, King Hussein, defense treaty, Arab League

Relations between Jordan and the left-wing Baathist regime in Syria deteriorated in the mid-1960s. Despite calls for unity, Arab nations tended to polarize into an extremist camp including Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, and a moderate group including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. For a time the Jordanian frontier with Syria was as troubled as its border with Israel. Arab guerrilla fighters of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), infiltrating Jordan from Syria, launched terrorist attacks against Israel for which Jordan suffered Israeli reprisals. In July 1966 Jordan withdrew support from the PLO, but a massive Israeli raid in November created intense pressure for Hussein to back the terrorists. When he refused, the PLO called for his overthrow, and clashes on the Syrian border increased.

Arab-Israeli tensions were meanwhile mounting steadily. When war seemed imminent, Hussein, in an unprecedented gesture of Arab solidarity, flew to Cairo and signed a defense treaty with Nasser on May 30, 1967. This action greatly enhanced his position with the refugees, but it also committed Jordan to active involvement when the Six-Day War broke out on June 5. On June 7, with its air force destroyed and the West Bank occupied, Jordan accepted a UN cease-fire.

Jordanian postwar diplomacy aimed at reinforcing ties with the West and achieving an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied area. Hussein took no unilateral initiatives toward a peace settlement, however, and Egypt, Algeria, and Syria hardened their anti-Israel position with calls for a sustained guerrilla offensive against Israel, staged from bases in Jordan.

The situation in Jordan reached the point of civil war in September 1970, when Palestinian guerrillas supported by Syria fought Jordanian troops in Amman and other areas of northern Jordan. After heavy casualties, a cease-fire agreement was reached requiring a number of concessions from Hussein. In 1971, however, Hussein ordered Premier Wasfi al-Tall to take military action against the guerrillas, and the movement was completely crushed. The Arab response to Jordanís actions was strongly hostile. On November 28, while attending a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, Premier al-Tall was assassinated by guerrilla members of the Palestinian Black September organization.

In 1972 Hussein proposed creation of a federated Arab state comprising Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Most Arab governments and the Palestinian organizations were unanimously opposed to such a state, however.

In February 1973 King Hussein visited the United States and received promises of continued U.S. economic and military aid. On September 18 Hussein granted amnesty to 1,500 political prisoners, including some 750 Palestinian commandos; the move was viewed as a peace gesture following meetings with the leaders of Egypt and Syria that had brought about reconciliation among the three countries.

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