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Middle East: Ready for Trouble

3 minute read

Last week marked the 19th anniversary of the United Nations’ partition of Palestine, which awarded Europe’s displaced Jews 8,000 sq. mi. of land to form the new state of Israel and sent 1,300,000 Palestinian refugees drifting into neighboring Arab countries. The bitterness engendered by that partition seems to have deepened rather than dissipated over the years, and Israel’s raid on the Jordanian frontier village of Samu (TIME, Nov. 25) has fired it to the danger point. Warned Jordan’s King Hussein: “The tensions built up by the events of the last two weeks have created the most explosive situation since the Suez crisis of 1956, and the results could be even more devastating for the free world.”

Caught in Between. Trying to put Israel on the defensive again, Egypt sent two MIG-19s scrambling across its eastern border with Israel. In a bitter dogfight with two Israeli French-built Mirages—the first such fight in five years—the Egyptians lost at least one of the planes, as proved by Israeli photographs, and possibly both. Twenty-four hours later in Cairo, the Arab League’s Defense Council called an urgent meeting for this week to discuss the growing tensions. Girding for more trouble, Israel planted mines along its bristling border with Jordan, swept the bleak desert with searchlights, beefed up troop patrols and traded sporadic fire with Jordanian border police.

As for moderate King Hussein, who is more or less caught in the middle between the Israelis and the Arab extremists, he had to listen to radio pleas from Syria and Egypt urging Jordan’s 700,000 Palestinian refugees to overthrow their monarch. To get his country ready for any explosion, Hussein put his security forces on a round-the-clock alert; he began sending extra arms to police posts on the border, started drafting all men between 18 and 40 for 90 days of crash training and strung his tough, trusted Arab Legionnaires all along the frontier. His forces soon arrested four Syrian terrorists who, according to the Jordanian army, were sent across the border to bomb government buildings, bridges and military telephone lines. It was the first such Arab terrorism reported against Jordan itself.

Promised Support. King Hussein warned publicly that much of the agitation against his regime was being stirred up by Communist agents, who hope to profit from his downfall. To protect Jordan against its Arab neighbors as well as against Israel, the U.S. is considering a shipment of armored vehicles and antitank weapons to Jordan’s army in addition to the 36 F-104 Starfighter jets it has promised. The key question, of course, is whether the Jordanian army will continue to stand behind Hussein in the face of mounting troubles. Should it even waver, the King’s enemies would rush in for the kill.

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