TEL AVIV (Aug. 19)
The infiltration of the West Bank on Sunday morning by two armed Jordanians wearing military uniforms has raised concern in Israel that King Hussein may be losing control of his army as he walks a tightrope in the Persian Gulf crisis.
The two gunmen exchanged fire with an Israel Defense Force patrol. One was killed and the other was captured. There were no Israeli casualties.
According to the IDF account, the confrontation occurred after a routine army patrol discovered tracks leading westward from the Jordan River and encountered two men wearing Jordanian army uniforms half a mile from the Damiya Bridge, about 12 miles north of Jericho.
The IDF said there have been three previous infiltration attempts by Jordanian soldiers this year in which the Jordanians opened fire on Israeli forces. The earlier incidents occurred in the Beit She’an Valley and in the southern Arava.
For the most part, the Jordanian military has taken pains to keep such incidents at a minimum, Israeli sources said. But this may be changing.
The Jordanian army has been put on a high state of alert while the king ponders whether to join in the Western blockade of Iraq.
In part, the Jordanians are believed to be girding themselves for possible Israeli military moves should Iraqi troops enter Jordan.
But for the moment, the alert seems to have been called to control a possible pro-Iraqi uprising by Palestinians, who comprise a majority of Jordan’s population.
GAS MASKS MAY BE DISTRIBUTED EARLIER
Palestinians are said now to make up about 60 percent of Jordan’s armed forces, and Israeli observers believe King Hussein no longer commands their absolute loyalty.
They believe, in fact, that the latest infiltration attempt may have been influenced by Palestinian elements. Experts said the two who penetrated the border may have been religious fundamentalists acting on their own initiative, rather than that of the Jordanian army.
Palestinians in both Jordan and the West Bank have rallied strongly behind Iraqi President Saddam Hussein while King Hussein — who is no relation — is under heavy pressure from the United States to seal off his only seaport, Aqaba, to Iraqi commerce.
Israel has made clear that the intrusion of Iraqi troops into Jordanian territory, whether by invitation or aggression, would be regarded by Israel as an act of war, eliciting a response in kind.
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said Sunday he thought the government should begin distributing gas masks and anti-chemical-warfare kits to the Israeli public immediately and not wait any longer.
Levy, who had just returned from a diplomatic mission to Europe, said that any justification for delaying the distribution last week were no longer valid in view of the latest developments in the Persian Gulf crisis.
Authorities had feared that distribution of the gas masks would create panic in Israel and could be interpreted in Iraq as a signal that Israel was preparing to attack.
But the massing of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia facing the Iraqi army in Kuwait has raised fear that warfare could break out in the region.
While the government has still not decided whether to speed up the distribution, the feeling is that the original plan will be advanced. The original plan was to begin issuing gas masks near the end of the year, first in the Tel Aviv area and gradually over the rest of the country.
The plastics factory at Kibbutz Hazorea, meanwhile, has just received a $3 million order for protective anti-chemical-warfare clothing for the use of Western troops in Saudi Arabia.