TEL AVIV (May. 14)
The heavy build-up of Jordanian forces including tanks and mobile units near the Israeli border has alerted the Israeli army to a possible surprise move that would end four years of tranquility on the eastern front, The massing of Jordanian troops and armor, which can be seen clearly from settlements in the Beisan Valley, has caused concern and puzzlement in both military and political circles in Israel, mainly because the moves were unexpected and their true intent is unknown.
Defense Minister Shimon Peres who toured Jordan Valley settlements yesterday referred to the “flirtation” between Jordan and Syria which, he said, “does not mean that Syria is going in Jordan’s direction but rather that Jordan is adopting a Syrian orientation” meaning a more bellicose line toward Israel.
The rapprochement between Amman and Damascus is a relatively new development with ominous overtone for Israel. Some sources here believe that Jordan has abandoned its moderate stand and is moving toward the war option confident that it will be protected by the Soviet-made Syrian air defense umbrella.
But King Hussein has said recently that “thanks to our brethren, we shall have protection from the air,” meaning apparently that Jordan could participate in a new war against Israel without fear of devastation by Israel’s superior air force One of the reasons Jordan remained on the sidelines in the Yom Kippur War is believed to have been its vulnerability to air attack.
PROBE MEANING OF JORDAN’S STANCE
Israeli circles are uncertain whether the new stance by Jordan means that country is preparing to join Syria in a full-scale war or a war of attrition precipitated by a Syrian refusal to extend the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observers Force (UNDOF); or whether Amman is simply flexing its muscle to impress President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, who will visit Hussein in a few days, with the fact that the Jordanian army is ready to take part in any action called for.
The recent Jordanian moves can also be viewed as part of a mounting Arab war of nerves against Israel at a time of its strained relations with Washington before Premier Yitzhak Rabin’s crucial meeting with President Ford next month, Whatever the reason, Peres observed in a speech to settlers at Patzael in the Jordan Valley near Jericho yesterday that “We are lucky the Jordanians are not here, otherwise they would have moved their forces toward Jerusalem.”
PERMANENT SETTLEMENT IN JORDAN VALLEY
At Kokhav Hashahar, a Nahal (para-military) settlement in the Jordan Valley, Peres assured the settlers that their status would not be affected by a future peace settlement with Jordan. “It is our intention that there will be permanent settlement in the Jordan Valley….Regardless of the future political status of the area, the Jordan will be the security boundary of Israel and Jewish settlements will continue to exist here,” the Defense Minister declared.
He observed that the Jewish settlements are located on 16,000 dunams of arable land that was never cultivated under Jordanian rule. “There is no reason why it should not be as flourishing as the rest of the Jordan Valley,” he said.