The British army had a plan to invade Israel 30 years ago in defense of Jordan but Prime Minister Winston Churchill insisted it be kept secret. This emerged from British Cabinet papers of 1954 released this week for scrutiny by journalists and historians.
British Chiefs of Staff also had plans to invade Egypt and Iraq in 1954, a year dominated by discussions on the future of the 80,000 British troops in the Suez Canal zone. At the time, Britain also had troops stationed in Cyprus, Libya, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait and the Trucial sheikhdoms on the Persian Gulf.
On March 31, 1954, Lord Alexander of Tunis, the Defense Minister, told the Cabinet that the Chiefs of Staff had prepared a plan for military action, which involved the invasion of Israel by British forces from the south — if Israel attacked Jordan.
Churchill’s only comment was that he was much relieved to hear that the Chiefs of Staff were not in favor of disclosing to the Jordanians a plan involving British invasion of Israel. Leakage of such a plan would have had very grave consequences.
Discussion of the invasion plan in the Cabinet followed an earlier decision that Anthony Eden, then Foreign Secretary, should act as secret mediator between Jordan and Israel over border clashes.
The plan to invade Israel has to be seen in the light of Britain’s contractual obligations to defend members of the Arab League and that Israel’s borders were then the scene of frequent attacks by Arab infiltrators and Israeli retaliation raids.
In his memoirs describing the background to the 1956 tripartite attack on Egypt, the late Moshe Dayan, then Israel’s Chief of Staff, showed that Israel fully recognized the possibility of a clash with British forces if there had been a major war with Jordan. At that time, Britain also remained committed to the tripartite pact of 1950 in which, together with France and the U.S. it guaranteed the integrity of Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.