LONDON (Jun. 14)
Uneasy quiet prevailed in Jordan today in the aftermath of a crisis that almost toppled King Hussein and left the future of his rule in the hands of the Palestinian commandos whom his troops had been battling for five days. The 34 year-old Hashemite monarch was forced on Friday to yield to commando demands for the dismissal of his uncle, Maj. Gen. Nasser Ben Jamil, commander in chief of the Jordanian Army and Maj. Gen. Zaid Ben-Shaker, commander of the Third Armored Division, who is Hussein’s cousin. The two officers were close advisers to the King and had sought to exercise firmer control over guerrilla operations against Israel from Jordanian soil. The guerrillas accused them last week of attacking commando units and ordering the shelling of refugee camps housing guerrilla headquarters. Only their ouster ended the fighting in Amman and other Jordanian towns which, according to estimates caused 500 fatalities on both sides, wounded considerably more and left parts of the Jordanian capital in shambles. The events of the week left King Hussein in a weaker position than ever since he assumed the throne on May 2, 1953, two years after the assassination of his grandfather. Kind Abdullah. Apart from the guerrillas he faced dissident elements within his own loyal Army.
A tank force advanced on Amman Friday following the King’s capitulation to guerrilla demands but was stopped by a combination of troops loyal to the King and commandos. Shortly afterwards unidentified gunmen, believed to be dissident officers, fired on a motorcade carrying Maj. Gen. Mashur Haditha. the army chief of staff who was a figure in negotiations between the King and the guerrillas. Yesterday King Hussein appealed to his army to “exercise full discipline and obedience.” Observers here believe King Hussein would have been overthrown during last week’s crisis had it not been for El Fatah, the largest and most respected of the Palestinian guerrilla groups. El Fatah joined in the demand for the ouster of Hussein’s two senior officers and for a free hand in its operations against Israel, but it apparently has no desire to see the government overthrown at this time, an event that could result in chaos and precipitate action by Israel. (Abu Lotuf, an El Fatah leader, whose real name is Farouk El Kaddoumi, in an interview with the Italian Journalist Oriana Fallact in this week’s Look magazine, said his guerrilla group is not Communist, “We have no gripe against oil wells, only against Israel,” he was quoted saying. “We are not trying to destroy capitalism, we are trying to destroy Zionism in all of its social, military, economic, cultural and ideological forms.”)
The guerrilla forces themselves are split. El Fatah leader Yassir Arafat faces a challenge from the more militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a guerrilla group that specialises in terror acts against Israeli civilians and Israeli premises abroad. The Popular Front is headed by Dr. George Habash, a Palestinian Arab Christian and a free-wheeling Marxist described by some as a fanatic. The Front’s declared aim is not only the destruction of Israel but the overthrow of all Arab governments including that of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt which Habash considers a “bourgeois regime.” Commandos of the Popular Front were the most active in last week’s pitch battles with Jordanian regulars. The Front denounced a cease-fire agreement concluded earlier between Arafat and Hussein. Arafat is believed to have disapproved of the Popular Front’s actions but was reluctant to take measures against them in the interests of guerrilla unity. Observers here say that the future of King Hussein now depends on Yassir Arafat. If he is forced into solidarity with Habash’s commandos, the deposing of King Hussein is seen as only a matter of time. But If Arafat decides to cooperate with the King, as he seems personally to desire, an alliance of the Jordan Army and EI Fatah could suppress the Popular Front. Middle East experts say King Hussein has lost control of part of his army, much of his authority in government, and most serious, lost face with the masses of the Arab world.