Jordan… A Hundred Years of Normalization What is the Historical Role of the Emirate/Kingdom? What is the Current Role Towards Syria?
During the last few months, there has been increasing talk about what is being called “normalization with the regime”. What is meant by that is the rapprochement of Arab regimes with the Syrian regime, and in particular: Jordan and UAE.
Things started with the Jordanian monarch’s visit to Washington at the beginning of July and his meeting with Biden, and the subsequent “leaks” of a proposal he submitted to the US president. The proposal supposedly included a request to relieve the “Arab” gas pipeline from the Caesar Act sanctions. Since then, the Jordanian king has been portrayed as a “leader” of a regional operation on Syria, and in line and coordination with the West.
In a previous article titled Operation Alpha, Version II, Why “Normalization with the Regime” and Why “Normalization”?, the Kassioun Research Unit looked at the not-so-innocent use of this expression, mainly in connection with the meaning of “normalization” in the Arabic political dictionary, that is: normalization with “Israel”.
In the aforementioned article, we referred to the historical role of Jordan with regard to the issue of normalization with the Zionist entity. In this article, we will take a look at that history with a little more detail by reviewing some of the significant events over the last 100 years or so, though volumes could be filled with other events and details on the topic. What is important is to place the role that the Jordanian regime is playing with regard to Syria these days within a clear historical context that allows removing any illusions that are thrown at people on a daily basis, and in massive amounts.
Churchill and the “Forty Thieves”
Following WWI and in light of several events concerning our region, including: the ousting of the Ottomans from the Levant as a direct result of the war, in addition to the role of the “Arab revolt” against the Ottoman Empire. In parallel, there was the ongoing McMahon-Hussein Correspondence prior to 1916, in addition to very important events at the time, like the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), the Balfour Declaration (1917), as well as the French and the British setting up a joint “Occupied Enemy Territory Administration” in Syria or the greater Syria under Ottoman rule.
In January 1921, Winston Churchill was appointed as the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and one of his first tasks was to find a solution for the unrest in the colonies, in what is today Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine. Churchill assigned as his special advisor of Arab Affairs, T.E. Lawrence (who became later known as Lawrence of Arabia). Lawrence was an army officer in the region from 1914-1918 and had become very close with the Hussein dynasty of Hejaz, especially Emir Faisal, one of the sons of Hussein bin Ali (Grand Sharif of Mecca and later King of Hejaz).
Accordingly, Churchill instructed Lawrence to prepare for a meeting of experts to focus on the issue of the British mandates (today’s Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine). As a result, preparatory meetings took place in London, in which Faisal participated, and during which much of the plans were drawn to be discussed during the formal meeting of experts, which came to be known as the Cairo Conference.
The Cairo Conference took place from 12-30 March 1921, the most significant outcome of which was the appointment of Faisal bin Hussein king of the Kingdom of Iraq and the assignment of his older brother, Abdullah, the administration of the territory east of the Jordan River, which was called in the documents the “Protectorate of Transjordan”. Additionally, one of the outcomes was that Britain would continue the mandate over Palestine and continue supporting the establishment of a “Jewish Homeland” there.
As a result, the Emirate of Transjordan was established as a British protectorate on 11 April 1921, to be administered by Abdullah bin Hussein, who later became King Abdullah I. After having divided the region between then and the French, the Brits effectively drew additional borders within the areas under their mandate and appointed their local agents as kings and emirs to administer these newly-drawn countries. According to some sources, Winston Churchill himself once said when talking about Transjordan that he created it with a stroke of his pen on a Sunday afternoon.
It is worth mentioning here with regard to the Cairo Conference, which included 40 British “experts” (39 men and one woman), is that Churchill described it as a gathering of “Forty Thieves”, a description that is extremely accurate albeit made with an air of arrogance and insolence, which became an authentic feature of British politicians in dealing with our region and peoples.
Abdullah I and the Zionist movement
Initially, the Brits assigned to Abdullah the task of administering the Protectorate of Transjordan, compared to making his younger brother Faisal king of Iraq. This had an unpleasant effect on Abdullah, making him feel uneasy and a sense of insecurity and instability in his position, which pushed him to make a great effort to establish his “legitimacy”. It was this feeling of threat and his desire to hold on to power that pushed him to maintain a direct and secret relationship with the “Yishuv” and later “Israel” at almost all levels.
One of the aspects of cooperation that both sought was at the economic level, where Abdullah was looking to improve the economic conditions of Transjordan to further solidify his position and the Zionists were looking to build on economic cooperation with an Arab state for political gain and legitimacy.
One example of this economic cooperation was a power plant construction led by Zionist entrepreneur Pinhas Rutenberg, who founded the Palestine Electric Corporation (PEC, later the “Israel” Electric Corporation). For this, Rutenberg obtained from the British Government a monopoly over “utilization of such of the waters of the River Jordan and its basin including the Yarmouk River”. This was pursuant to a concession agreement between the British and Rutenberg, which was formalized in 1926 and validated in Mandatory Palestine in 1927 and in the Emirate of Transjordan in 1928.
Emir Abdullah I attended the opening ceremony of the PEC’s power plant located at the confluence of the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers on 9 June 1932, and on 6 June 1933 Abdullah I started the water turbines at the power plant as Pinhas Rutenberg stood behind him (shown in the photo).
Jordan’s role in 1948
There were a lot of events leading up to the 1948 war and during the war itself, all of which we will not cover in this article, but suffice to say that in the context of this war and in general, Palestinian nationalism, as well as the liberation movement in its Arabic dimension in Egypt and Syria, represented a threat to both Abdullah I and the Zionists, causing them to cooperate in 1948. At the same time, the Arab states formed the Arab Liberation Army, as a response by the Arab League to the UN partition plan and the continued flow of Jewish immigrants despite the various promises made by the Brits to reduce that immigration. Abdullah I pretended to go along with the Arab states, while at the same time maintaining contact with the “Israeli” side.
In preparation for this war, the Arab League worked out a unified plan for invasion, but Abdullah I made last minute changes with his army, known as the Arab Legion, the commander of which was John Bagot Glubb (or Glubb Pasha), a British army officer, and for which Norman Lash, another British army officer, was the field commander of the operations.
In reality, Abdullah I did not want the other Arab armies to intervene in Palestine, as their plan was to prevent partition and prevent establishment of the Jewish state, while his plan was to effect partition and gain control of the Arab part of the Palestinian territories adjacent to his kingdom. Nevertheless, with building pressure and growing suspicions of his collaboration with the Zionists, the other Arab states were working on an alternative plan. Abdullah I, in an attempt to avoid adverse effects on him and his power, tried to pretend to be on the side of the Arab League in the war against the Zionists, which led to tensions built between him and the “Israelis”, and Golda Meir going on a secret mission to Amman for a meeting with Abdullah I on 10 May 1948. This meeting was not the first between the two, as they had met earlier in November 1947, when they had reached an agreement that Abdullah I would take over the Arab part of Palestine. Therefore, the question in 1948 was whether Abdullah’s invasion to take over that part would mean involvement in clashes with the “Israeli” forces.
In the end, the Arab Legion clashed with the Zionist gangs – as they had not yet been organized within one army – in a bloody battle in Jerusalem, which was the point on which they could not reach an agreement. This was their biggest clash, and probably the only real one. Other than that, their other battles were by many accounts merely displays, and the Arab Legion did not attempt to move into any of the lands marked as part of the Jewish state by the partition plan. Some recounts go further in noting that the actions of the Arab Legion facilitated the weakening of other Arab states’ armies by the “Israelis”. In fact, Transjordan was the only Arab state to emerge from the war without suffering major losses and the only one to make territorial gains.
Hussein bin Talal
After being assassinated, Abdullah I was succeeded by his son Talal, who had a very short reign, lasting only a little over a year. During that time, he worked on smoothing strained relations between Jordan and neighboring Arab states. Thus, he was probably forcibly abdicated, with the help of his wife, Zein, and that was shortly after angering the Brits by refusing to hand over West Jordan to “Israel”.
A CIA document dated August 2, 1951, titled “Implications of Abdullah’s Assassination”, which was declassified while keeping some words and lines redacted even more than 50 years later, discusses not only the assassination of Abdullah I, but also who will succeed him. The document goes into many details about the potential candidates and who of them would be the better choice for the US. The document describes Talal as the “bitterly anti-British Prince Talal is the legal heir”.
After Talal’s forced abdication, his son Hussein succeeded him to the throne in August 1952, three months shy of his 18th birthday, and he officially became king a few months later after he had turned 18. Hussein was very close to his grandfather, Abdullah I, and in fact was with him in Jerusalem when the latter was assassinated.
Early on during Hussein’s reign, he entered into negotiations after which he was about to join the Baghdad Pact in 1955, but the Jordanian public, whose patriotic and national concerns were dominant and loud, prevented Hussein from going in this direction. Relations with Britain got strained, the National Socialist Party received a plurality of votes in the parliamentary elections of 1956, and its leader Sulayman Nabulsi was designated as prime minister. However, Hussein demanded the resignation of the Nabulsi government about six months later, as the latter had a Nasserist leaning, which did not sit well with Hussein, and because of the rise of pan-Arabist anti-West sentiment. As a result, Hussein put Jordan, or officially put it back in the Western camp and turned to the US for help.
In the late 1950s with the emergence of the UAR and overthrowing of the monarchy in Iraq, Jordan suddenly found itself again isolated, and it turned to the US and Britain. Over the next decade or so, Jordan attempted to maintain balance between being an Arab state and maintaining relations with “Israel”, which became more difficult particularly after the Samu incident in 1966, after which according to some sources, Hussein sent a letter of condolence to the “Israeli” prime minister for the death of the three “Israeli” policemen whose vehicle drove over a landmine reportedly planted by Palestinians.
Eventually, after the 1967 war, Jordan lost control of the West Bank, which was due to entering the war alongside Syria and Egypt, but it was from his perspective the lesser costly choice, as losing the West Bank and Jerusalem was better than losing his entire country and his rule, something that might have happened had he not taken the Arab side.
Following the 1967 war, the PLO along with other Palestinian groups moved their bases to Jordan and started launching attacks aimed at “Israel” from there, which retaliated by targeting their locations in Jordan. In 1968, one of the “Israeli” attacks targeted a PLO camp in the Jordanian town of Karameh, on the borders with the West Bank. The “Israelis” lost in the subsequent Battle of Karameh in what was perceived as a joint Jordanian-Palestinian victory, after which Arab support for Palestinian fighters based in Jordan started coming in, especially from Syria and Egypt.
As a result, Palestinians gained more power and resources in Jordan, which was worrisome for Hussein, who waited for the right opportunity to mitigate the matter. Thus, Hussein used as a pretext one of their operations in late 1970, based on which he ordered the army to surround cities with high PLO presence. Forces moved in from Syria in support of the PLO, and the Jordanian army launched an offensive that dealt massive losses to the Syrian side. Interestingly, “Israeli” Air Force jets flew over the defeated Syrian forces, but without engaging, just to symbolically show support for Hussein. After this incident, Egypt got involved to stop the fighting and things went back to the way they were before. However, in early 1971, the Jordanian army launched again a series of attacks to drive out all the Palestinian fighters, which led to their exit to Lebanon, through Syria.
The 1973 October war was probably when Hussein most resembled his grandfather Abdullah I. According to documents released in 2013, about 40 years after the October war, Hussein communicated with Golda Meir that he sent aid to Syrian forces to preserve his position in the Arab world, and asked “Israel” not attack Jordan. According to the documents, there was unusual cooperation and coordination between “Israel” and Jordan during that war. Nevertheless, the declassified documents, due to very high sensitivity, do not disclose all the details of the meeting between Golda Meir and Hussein in September 1973, which took place right after a meeting he just had with other Arab leaders to discuss the war. For this meeting with Meir, Hussein was flown with his then prime minister in a helicopter to a Mossad building outside Tel Aviv.
A CIA documents bearing the number NESA 83-10360 and dated December 1983, which was declassified on February 16, 2012, is probably one of the best historical documents to describe the relationship between Jordan and Syria during the 1950s, 60s, 70s, up to the date of the document.
In one part, the document states that the “drastic reduction of US aid to Jordan after Amman’s rejection of Camp David has increased Hussein’s dependence on Arab support. Hussein believes, in our view, that he needs the US financial aid and modern weaponry to deter potential Syrian intimidation in the event he joins peace negotiations.”
The document also notes: “King Hussein, who was an outcast among his Arab neighbors during the late 1960s and early 1970s, views Jordan’s Arab relations as essential to the continued stability and security of his country. Jordan has correct, if not good, relations with all Arab states except Syria, and the King may be compelled to improve relations with Damascus in hope of warding off the potential threat represented by a more powerful Syria. In the 1950s and 1960s Jordan’s Arab relations could have been characterized generally as an alliance of King Hussein with Arab moderates such as Saudi Arabia against the more radical states represented by Nasir’s Egypt and its closet ally, Syria”.
“The New Middle East” and “Wadi Araba”
If one were to put side by side both Shimon Peres’ book “The New Middle East”, originally published in 1993, and the texts of the Wadi Araba Agreement, which is the “peace” agreement between Jordan and the Zionist entity, the conclusion one cannot but reach is that the Wadi Araba Agreement is nothing but a practical and direct translation of Peres’ book, including the details relating to water, electricity, and the regional economic and energy link. We had referred to some of these connections in a previous article by the Kassioun Research Unit, titled: The “Arab” Gas Pipeline… How Does Jordan Produce its Electricity?
Here we recall the matter, i.e., the interconnectedness among the regional role entrusted to Jordan and Wadi Araba and “The New Middle East” because, we believe, it is the essence of the matter, as well as the essence of Jordanian activity that we are seeing these days.
The above barely touches the surface of the relationship between Transjordan / Jordan and the Zionist movement / “Israel”, as this covers 100 years of events, wars, and regional and international shifts. The constant throughout this period seems to have started with Abdullah I and carried through to this day with his great-grandson Abdullah II, which is the mutual interests of the two entities. Jordan’s role – directly or indirectly – was in taking the side of the Zionist entity in the most Arab-“Israeli” wars, especially those most critical and threatening to the region’s states and peoples. The Jordanian role was mostly pleading to be spared from attacks in exchange for protection, to the point of providing important and militarily catastrophic information and giving information about plans with other Arab states. Not to mention all the ways of economic normalization with the Zionist entity, the latest of which is the “Arab” gas pipeline, which Kassioun has covered extensively.
In more clear terms, the roles that are being played towards Syria by Jordan, and with it the UAE, which is the most blatant of the normalizers and their guardian, are roles that cannot be isolated in any way from Zionist roles whose ultimate goal is to uproot Syria from its historical anti-Zionist alignment.
As always, the positions on the issue of the resuming relations between Syria and the Arab states are portrayed as either black or white, and one is not allowed to take a third position. In other words: you are either with the reestablishment of Syria’s relations with the Arab states, and this is part of a broader Western action to bulldoze the Syrian patriotic position and to bring Syria in the fold of Western followers; or against the reestablishment of Syria’s relations with the Arab states and be consequently with isolating Syria and the continuation of its blockade and the continuation of sanctions against it, so you would be also with the West that is imposing a blockage on Syria and punishing its people.
So, you are either with the West or with the West! That is how the media portrays the issue in the end. However, also, as always, there is the third option: Syria should reestablish its normal equal relations with all its Arab and regional surroundings, with the exception of the Zionist entity, towards which the position should be clearer and more principled than ever before. Sanctions must be lifted and reconstruction must take place. All of this is linked to one issue and can be achieved in one way: a comprehensive political solution through the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254, because there is no meaning for any foreign relations before the state that establishes these relations controls its own territory, and before its people are in charge of their territory and resources. This and that cannot take place without the exit of foreign forces and without the reunification of the country and the people. Once again, there is no way to do that except through a comprehensive political solution.