JERUSALEM (Jan. 7)
Uncertainty over Jordan’s behavior in case of an outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf has become a cause for concern in Israel.
Contributing to the anxiety is the deployment of the Jordanian army after prolonged exercises and the inclusion of seven radical Moslem fundamentalists in the Cabinet in Amman.
The deployment is defensive. But military experts note that defensive postures can very easily be altered to offensive.
The inclusion of fiercely anti-Israel radicals in the Jordanian government for the first time is seen as an attempt to placate the strong Moslem coalition that now enjoys a majority in the Jordanian parliament.
While that move is attributable to King Hussein’s instincts for survival, it brings Jordan closer to Saddam Hussein of Iraq, who is now riding high on the Moslem fundamentalist horse.
Israeli policy-makers still do not believe Jordan is likely to join an Iraqi adventure against Israel.
But they hedge, recalling that similar estimates on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War turned out to be wrong. Jordan, ignoring repeated warnings, joined Egypt and Syria in confronting Israel. As a result, it lost control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Although King Hussein may have no offensive intentions, his kingdom is located between Israel and Iraq. Any exchange or engagement between Iraq and Israel would presumably take place on, above or through Jordanian territory or air space.
Jordan declared recently that it would strive to prevent an incursion by a third party, a declaration applauded in Jerusalem.
Israeli leaders have signaled encouragement to Jordan. They say they ask nothing more than that it honor its commitment to prevent a hostile intrusion of any kind.
JORDANIAN ARMY IS NO THREAT
The Israelis have also stated publicly and through diplomatic channels that they have no designs on the Hashemite regime.
King Hussein nevertheless fears possible Israeli intentions to solve the Palestinian problem at his expense.
He is unnerved by statements from hard-line ministers like Ariel Sharon that the Palestinians already have their own state in Jordan, though those on the Israeli right have been careful not to make such suggestions recently.
But many in Jordan, and a few in Israel, believe Sharon tried to engineer a coup against King Hussein during the Lebanon war and might try again if the region is once more embroiled in a war.
Israel, too, has reason to be wary.
Jordan’s army is small. It consists of two mechanized divisions and two armored divisions. According to foreign sources, it has a 30,000- troop reserve army made up of recruits in addition to soldiers enlisted in the regular army.
Such a force alone is not a serious threat to Israel. But if King Hussein is aware of Iraqi plans to attack Israel, he might be preparing to integrate his army into those plans, Israeli military experts say.
They point out that Jordan has allowed Iraqi pilots to conduct reconnaissance flights along its border with Israel. The Jordanians continue to supply Iraq with intelligence information from their radar stations.
Israeli leaders can only hope that in case of a military clash with Iraq, Jordan will keep to the role of uninvolved bystander.
At the same time, they must prepare for a worst-case scenario.