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Behind the Headlines Transforming Jordan’s Army

Israel’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Mordechai Gur, said recently that Jordan’s participation in a future war must be looked upon as a serious possibility. In fact, Israeli planners tend to believe that another war–if and when it occurs–will not be limited only to the Egyptian and Syrian fronts. In view of these considerations, careful attention is given to King Hussein’s efforts to modernize his army. These efforts, with American aid could transform the Jordanian army into an important military factor, enjoying an offensive option along the longest and most sensitive border of Israel.

Only two Jordanian tank brigades took part in the Yom Kippur War on the Syrian front. These covered the “hole” in Syria’s defenses on the southern flank of the Israeli counter-attack across the “purple line.” One brigade lost over 20 tanks in the one battle it waged and suffered some casualties. But Hussein regarded its performance as satisfactory, since it blocked, in his evaluation, the Israeli advance to the main Amman-Damascus road, which could have cut Jordan off from Syria.

After the war, the King argued that he was unable to launch an offensive across the Jordan River, as suggested to him by Syria’s President Hafez Assad at the time, because he lacked air cover and fire power. Recently, he has conceived and began to implement a new and far-reaching plan to overcome these deficiencies. In the Six-Day War, Jordan had a small army of 54,000 men which increased slowly to 80,000 men by 1973, organized in four divisions–two armored divisions, one mechanized and one division of unmechanized infantry.

The new modernization plans aim at complete mechanization of the units by late 1975, so that all divisions will be able to move flexibly. Hundreds of armored carriers will be bought in the U.S. so that by 1975 the number of modernized infantry battalions will be sixfold their number in 1968. The number of tank battalions will be more than doubled in comparison with the situation in 1967.

OTHER SIGNIFICANT FEATURES

Apart from mechanization of the infantry, the modernization plan has other significant features:

By the end of 1975 Jordan will have an air-force of 100 planes, mainly American “F-5.” New airfields and concrete hangars are being built. In terms of manpower the Jordanian air-force is already now eight times its 1967 strength and has been equipped with a sophisticated radar system. The armored brigades are getting the American “M-60A” tanks to replace the “M-48″ and “Centurions.”

Several battalions of “Tow” anti-tank missiles are organized to tackle the problem of Israeli superiority in tanks and maneuvering capability. More battalions of artillery are being organized in order to give sufficient fire cover to the tank brigades along the Jordan front. The number of self-propelled artillery battalions is threefold compared with 1967. Commando units have increased tenfold since 1967.

MULTIPLYING ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUNS

In view of Israeli air superiority, the Jordanians are multiplying by five the number of anti-aircraft guns compared with 1967 and they want to purchase American Hawk missiles. Hussein asked the oil-rich Arab states to give him financial aid to buy these expensive missiles ($100 million per battalion). All Jordanian soldiers will get the American “M-16″ rifle.

Even when this plan is completed, the Jordanian army will be considerably weaker than that of Egypt and Syria. But fighting in alliance with the other two “confrontation states.” Jordan’s military contribution could put a significantly heavier burden on Israel.

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