|Issue Date: March 27, 1968
Israel and the Arabs
Israeli Raid in Jordan
A force of about 15,000 Israeli troops entered Jordan March 21 and carried out a day-long massive retaliatory raid against alleged Arab terrorist bases used for guerrilla attacks on Israel. Jordanian army troops also entered the fray and clashed with the Israelis. Israeli Premier Levi Eshkol said the operations were designed to forestall an expected "new wave of [Arab] terror" against Israel. The UN Security Council convened in emergency session March 21 and unanimously adopted March 24 a resolution condemning Israel and deploring all attacks in violation of UN cease-fire agreements. [See 1968 Middle East: Israeli Reprisals]
The Israeli raid, the first major ground thrust into Arab territory since the June 1967 war, was spearheaded by armor, paratroop drops and air strikes. The major assault was directed primarily at an Arab fedayeen (commando) camp at Karameh, 3 miles east of the Jordan River, and at nearby Shune, north of the Dead Sea. Another Israeli force crossed the Jordan River south of the Dead Sea to strike at suspected Arab guerrilla bases in the Jordanian towns of Safi and Dakal.
Israeli and Jordanian authorities both claimed victory and gave conflicting versions of the number of casualties and damage inflicted. According to the Israelis: "At least 150 saboteurs were killed, and there were substantial Jordanian army losses. Israeli casualties were 21 killed and 70 wounded" (a revised Israeli report March 23 said: 23 Israelis had been killed, and 3 Israelis were missing; 138 Arabs had been taken prisoner, and nearly 1,000 weapons, mostly of Soviet and Chinese Communist make, had been seized). About 30 Jordanian tanks were hit and 2 captured. 6 Israeli armored vehicles were hit. Terrorist bases and buildings, and other installations were destroyed in both areas, and Jordanian artillery had been demolished. One Israeli plane was downed by Jordanian gunfire, but it crash-landed in Israeli territory and the pilot was saved.
Before withdrawing from Jordanian territory, an Israeli force occupied Karameh, searched its houses for terrorists and blew up several installations.
Jordan's account of the fighting, as given in various army communiques and broadcasts by Amman radio: 20 Jordanian soldiers were killed and 65 wounded. 15 Jordanian civilians were slain by the Israelis at Shimat Nimrin, 7 miles east of the Allenby Bridge, the Israelis' deepest penetration into Jordan. 30 Arab commandos in Karameh were killed. Israeli forces suffered more than 200 casualties, including more than 100 killed. Jordanian forces destroyed 45 Israeli tanks and 50 other vehicles and downed 5 Israeli planes. Israeli forces, pursued by Jordanian troops, retreated to the occupied west bank after having "abandoned equipment."
It was reported March 22 that the Arab commandos, believed to be members of the Al Fatah terrorist organization, had returned to their Karameh base following the withdrawal of the Israeli troops. According to the commandos' version of the fighting: The Israelis had first tried to cross the Jordan River by throwing up a temporary bridge opposite Karameh, but Jordanian artillery destroyed the span. The Israeli force then employed a pincer movement, crossing the Allenby Bridge and the Damiya Bridge to the north. The southern column was the first to reach Karameh, but by then the commando force had withdrawn to the hills because their ammunition was running low. Another Israeli unit of 400-500 men landed by helicopter about 1/2 mile east of the Karameh camp and engaged the commandos. More than 100 of the Israelis were killed.
(According to UN figures, all but 100 of the 77,000 Arab refugees in the Karameh camp and 8 other camps in the Jordan River Valley had fled since February 15 in the wake of Israeli shelling of the area. After the March 21 raid, Israeli and Jordanian forces exchanged sporadic fire across the Jordan River March 22-25.)
Israeli officials said that the thousands of Iraqi troops stationed in Jordan had not joined in the fighting. (Iraq and Syria had proclaimed a state of alert. During the fighting, Egyptian artillery had opened fire on Israeli positions on the east bank of the Suez Canal, but the shelling ceased when the Israelis returned fire.)
In an address to the Knesset (parliament), Eshkol March 21 justified Israel's attack on Jordan. He assailed the Amman government for not having "acted to stem the terrorist acts" against Israel. Eshkol said: "The terrorist bases are well known to the Jordanian government. Members of the gangs appeared openly wearing their uniforms and bearing arms. According to highly authoritative information, a new wave of terror was about to take place. Since political contacts did not bring about cessation of the murders, we had no other choice but to act in self-defense to avert these dangers."
Eshkol noted that since mid-February 6 Israelis had been killed and 44 injured by Arab terrorists. In the latest incident, 2 Israeli adults had been killed and 28 children injured when a school bus had been blown up by a mine March 18 in the Negev desert, 12 miles north of Elath.
Eshkol March 21 visited Israeli troops at the front in his temporary capacity as defense minister.
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was recovering in a hospital from injuries suffered in an accidental cave-in during an archeological dig at Holon, near Tel Aviv, March 20. The Al Fatah chief in Karameh claimed March 22 that Dayan had been injured when a commando mine had exploded under his car near Tel Aviv. Al Fatah said it believed the Israeli raid on Jordan was as much in retaliation for the attack on Dayan as for the blowing up of the Israeli school bus in the Negev.
In a broadcast from his hospital bed March 24, Dayan said "we had no choice but to return the terrorist warfare if we don't want to abandon the settlements and lose the military and political positions we acquired in the 6-day war."
Eshkol told the cabinet March 24 that Israel's discovery of a great quantity of arms at the Karameh base had "confirmed the need for this timely deterrent and punitive action." The assault, he said, had upset Al Fatah's "dangerous plans."
Jordan apparently had anticipated a major Israeli onslaught. Jordanian Ambassador-to-UN Muhammed H. el-Farra a charged in a complaint filed with the Security Council March 19 that Israel was "now contemplating a massed armed attack" on Jordan. Farra said Israel's "aggressive designs" were evidenced by recent statements of Dayan and Israeli Ambassador-to-UN Yosef Tekoah: Dayan had said March 18 that Arab saboteurs based in Jordan constituted the principal threat to Israel; he criticized Jordanian King Hussein for not curbing the attacks. In a note filed with the Security Council March 18, Tekoah had protested the blowing up of the Israeli school bus and the slaying of 2 Israeli soldiers the same day in an army barracks in Ramallah in the occupied west bank. Tekoah said Jordan must accept responsibility for both incidents. He said the attack on the bus brought to 35 the number of Jordanian-based infiltration attacks since February 15.
King Hussein declared March 23 that his government was not responsible for the security of Israel and therefore would do nothing to inhibit the activities of guerrillas stationed in Jordan.* Commenting on the losses suffered in the Karameh attack, Hussein said 50 Arabs had been killed, but it was "difficult to distinguish" how many were commandos. The Jordanian army death toll was considerably higher than the 20 fatalities first announced since many of the wounded had eventually died, the king said. (Jordanian officials reported later that army fatalities totaled 40.) Hussein said that, according to an Israeli message intercepted by Jordan March 21, the number of Israeli soldiers killed was 73, not 21 as announced by the Israelis. Hussein reported that 12 Jordanian farmers south of the Dead Sea had been captured and taken to Israel. Hussein denied Jordanian responsibility for the March 18 attack on the Israeli school bus in the Negev. He said a Jordanian investigation had shown "no crossings into Israeli territory from Jordan in that region." Hussein said Jordan had not called for military assistance from other Arab countries because "we did not want to give Israel a pretext for escalation."
*An Al Fatah member captured by Israel told reporters in Tel Aviv March 23 that the Jordanian army gave Al Fatah military intelligence and provided covering fire for river crossings but otherwise did not work directly with the guerrillas. The Syrian and Iraqi armies gave Al Fatah most of its help, he said.