State Department Mum on Report of Joint U.s.-israeli Action in Jordan

The State Department refused to comment today on a report in the New York Times that the United States and Israel were ready to take joint military action last month to save the regime of King Hussein of Jordan if the King’s forces were unable to halt an invasion by Soviet-made Syrian tanks. Asked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington correspondent if the report by Times reporter Benjamin Welles was “substantially true,” Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey replied, “no comment.” He offered the same reply when asked about a report in the Oct. 5 edition of Time magazine which claimed that the Nixon administration never intended at any time before or after the Jordanian civil war to intervene in that country. The JTA was informed by a knowledgeable source later that nobody in the administration wanted to “leap” into the Jordanian situation but neither was there any opposition within the government to intervention. A spokesman for the Israel Embassy, contacted by the JTA. said he was “not prepared to deny or confirm” the published reports. (In New York, a United Nations spokesman said Secretary General U Thant “will not” have any comment on the Times report.) According to Mr. Welles, plans for closely coordinated military operations were worked out between Washington and Jerusalem at the height of the Jordanian civil war when Syrian invaders, supporting the Palestinian fedayeen. captured Irbid. Jordan’s second largest city and threatened the capital, Amman.

FULBRIGHT, STENNIS INDIRECTLY CONFIRM U.S. PLANNED TO AID JORDAN IN CIVIL WAR

Mr. Welles said the plan envisioned Israeli air and ground attacks on the Syrian armored force while the U.S. Sixth Fleet and other units guarded Israel’s flanks against attack by Egyptian and Soviet forces from the Suez Canal area. The U.S. was also said to be prepared to drop paratroops on Amman airport, followed up by airborne infantry and equipment. President Richard M. Nixon was in personal charge of the plans on the American end and was in contact with the Israeli government by cable and in round-the-clock consultations at the White House, Mr. Welles reported. He said the events were reconstructed from interviews with State and Defense department officials, members of domestic and foreign intelligence corps, Arab and Israeli diplomats in Washington and reports from Times correspondents in Beirut, Cairo, Jerusalem. Moscow, the United Nations and with the Sixth Fleet. Indirect confirmation that the U.S. did plan some sort of action to rescue King Hussein emerged in Washington yesterday from remarks by Sen. J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and Sen. John Stennis, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Speaking at a seminar sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, Sen. Fulbright, a frequent critic of administration policy, complained that the President failed to consult Congress on his plans to meet the Jordanian crisis. The senators responded to questions by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington correspondent. Sen. Fulbright claimed that there had been no reason to intervene in Jordan and that the President had ample time to consult with Congress on the plans he did make. Sen. Stennis said the U.S. had been involved “in a bit of gun-boat diplomacy” but noted that “we didn’t mobilize” for the Jordanian crisis.

REPORT CALLS PLAN DEFENSIVE; ISRAEL PLANNED NO ACQUISITION OF TERRITORY

Observers here tended to regard the Times story as substantially correct and attributed its appearance to the Nixon administration’s desire to impress the Soviet Union that the U.S. is prepared to use force to protect its interests in the Middle East. Some observers detected domestic political overtones in the administration’s apparent eagerness to publicize its purported plans now that the Jordanian crisis has abated. One Washington commentator observed last week that the White House was trying to create the image that President Nixon, single-handedly, forced the Syrian armor to retreat from Jordan. He said the administration was ignoring the primary role played by King Hussein’s army and the secondary role of Israel which stationed a tank column on the Golan Heights border as a warning to Syria. One source observed that in any foreign crisis, contingency plans of action by the U.S. are worked out as a matter of routine and that the story given to the Times was an attempt to dramatize the most sensational of the plans developed during the Jordanian crisis for political reasons. Mr. Welles wrote that “The bond between the United States and Israel in this crisis was their joint determination that King Hussein must not be overthrown by outside intervention in Jordan because they assumed he would be replaced by a regime closely linked to Moscow.” There was also a feeling in Washington that Israel would strike on its own if Syrian forces had continued to penetrate into Jordan, Mr. Welles said.

He said there was no written agreement for joint action by the two countries because events moved too rapidly. “Each government relied on the others’ oral pledges for coordinated military action.” Mr. Welles wrote. He said that both sides recognized certain contingencies that would have compelled them to put their plan into action. These included re-enforcement by Syria of the original 250-tank force it sent into Jordan during the night of Sept. 19-20; participation of the Syrian Airforce in the fighting; intervention by Iraqi forces stationed in Jordan against King Hussein. Mr. Welles wrote. “The plan was defensive…At no time, sources here insist, did Israel contemplate attacking any targets except the two Syrian tank brigades….None of the sources suggest that Israel’s action would have been other than defensive–aimed that is at preventing the overthrow of King Hussein…There have been no suggestions that the Israeli action would have led to the acquisition of additional Jordanian territory by Israel. At no time. It is said, did the United States contemplate attacks on Arabs–let alone Russians–except to protect Israel.”

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