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Israel Studies 7.1 (2002) 139-167

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The IDF Raid On Samu':
The Turning-Point In Jordan's Relations With Israel and the West Bank Palestinians

Moshe Shemesh


Between 1949 and 1967 two issues dominated Israel's relations with its Arab neighbor to the east, Jordan: security along the border and the fate of the West Bank in case of a radical change in the Jordanian regime. Throughout these years, a complex relationship developed between the two states based on their common interest in safeguarding the integrity of the Royal Hashemite House of Jordan. Israel regarded Jordan as an ally in the handling of daily security issues and as a potential partner in a lasting peace agreement. Israel further believed that Jordan's independence and territorial integrity under King Hussein were strategic assets, and let it be known that any change in the Hashemite regime by military take-over, foreign subversion (Egyptian-Syrian), or the introduction of Iraqi army units would be seen as a major security threat to Israel and, therefore, justification for Israeli occupation of all or parts of the West Bank. At the same time, Israel held the Jordanian government responsible for maintaining a peaceful border and preventing any form of infiltration or sabotage. Although the Israelis were keenly aware of Hussein's serious efforts to stanch guerrilla attacks, Jerusalem persisted in punitive-retaliatory acts that sometimes had a jarring effect on the Jordanian regime.

Hussein inherited from his grandfather, King Abdullah, a special relationship with Israel characterized by dialogue for dealing with routine security matters, the exchange of intelligence data, either directly or through third parties, and the mutual pursuit of a political solution. In contrast to other Arab leaders, Hussein harbored no offensive designs against Israel and, like his grandfather, preferred to settle the Palestinian problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict by peaceful means through the recognition of [End Page 139] Israel's right to exist. At the same time, he informed Israeli leaders that he would adamantly adhere to the Arab consensus on the means of resolving the conflict. He had no qualms, despite this stance, at viewing Israel as a "supporter" of his regime during periods of crisis when the Royal Hashemite government was threatened by internal or foreign subversion.

On 13 November 1966, Israel conducted a large-scale retaliatory raid on the West Bank village of Samu'. The purpose of this article is to analyze and evaluate the impact of the operation on Israeli-Jordanian relations, King Hussein's decision to participate in the Six-Day War, and relations between the Jordanian government and the Palestinian population in the West Bank.


The three main factors that influenced Israeli-Jordanian relations were: the Palestinian population in Jordan; the fear of an Israeli invasion of the West Bank; and the security conditions along the Israeli-Jordanian border.

Jordan's Palestinian Population

In April 1950, Jordan officially annexed the West Bank. East of the Jordan River (the East Bank) the country contained over 400,000 Palestinian refugees who made up one-third of the population; another third of the population was comprised of Palestinians on the West Bank; and only one third of the population consisted of the original inhabitants of TransJordan. This meant that the TransJordanians had become a ruling minority over a Palestinian majority that was proving to be a mercurial element in internal Jordanian politics and was playing a critical role in the political opposition. Since the 1950s, the West Bank has become the center of the national and territorial aspects of the Palestinian problem that is the key issue of Jordan's domestic and foreign policy. According to Hussein, the Palestinian problem spelled "life or death" for Jordan and would remain the country's overriding national security issue.

In his book, Jordan and Palestine: An Arab Perspective (1984), the former Jordanian Minister of Education, Sa'id al-Tal, writing with the hindsight of two decades, pointed to the creation of the PLO in 1964 as the watershed in Jordanian-Palestinian...


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