392. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 36.3–59


The Problem

To assess the situation in Jordan and to estimate the outlook over the next year with particular reference to various courses of action open to King Hussein.


King Hussein and Prime Minister Rifai feel that their regime urgently needs reassurances of strong US moral and material support if it is to maintain its pro-Western position and even survive in the face of strong domestic discontent and isolation from the prevailing trends of Pan-Arab nationalism. (Paras. 5–6, 8, 10)
Over the long run we have little confidence in Hussein’s ability to hold his throne or, indeed, in the viability of Jordan as a state. In the short run, however, his own position and Jordan’s existence are bolstered by an uneasy equilibrium of external forces, which maintains Jordan as a buffer and preserves the regime in default of a generally acceptable alternative. Israel prefers Hussein to a pro-Nasser successor. [Page 682] Nasser wants to avoid a showdown with the West and Israel over Jordan’s future particularly while he is preoccupied with the Communist threat in Iraq. (Paras. 6, 9, 10, 12, 14)
If Hussein should receive convincing reaffirmation of the Eisenhower statement of April 1957,2 he would probably continue policies of co-operation with the West. If at the other extreme he became convinced that the US was anxious to disengage from Jordan, he would reassess his entire position. He would seek increased support from the UK, and possibly from Nasser, Saudi Arabia or even Iraq. None of these alternatives is very promising. It is more likely that Hussein would abdicate rather than try desperate measures to recoup his fortunes—such as an attack on Syria. (Paras. 19–22)
Hussein would face another choice if he failed to get the degree of US backing that he would like but was still convinced of US readiness to continue substantial support to Jordan and his throne. In this situation he would probably seek peace with the Pan-Arab nationalists while maintaining the best possible relations with the West. He would probably feel compelled to replace Rifai and other members of his government with less pro-Western politicians. Although there is no assurance that such a course would preserve Hussein’s position, we believe that some such adjustment represents his best hope of retaining his throne for the longest period of time. (Paras. 23–24)


I. The Situation

King Hussein and Prime Minister Samir Rifai are coming to Washington in March to seek clarification of the US attitude toward the Hussein regime and Jordan. In particular, they will press for an increase in the US proposed FY 1960 level of economic assistance for Jordan3 and for a more specific US guarantee of the independence of Jordan.4 Both Hussein and Rifai take the position that, in the absence of such support, not only will the pro-West orientation of the regime become less certain but the existence of the monarchy and even the independence of Jordan will be placed in jeopardy. Therefore, they may be expected to argue in strong terms that they are entitled to such [Page 683] increased support on the grounds that on the assurance contained in President Eisenhower’s statement of April 1957 and on the urging of the US and UK, the Hussein regime has taken the exposed and dangerous position in the Middle East of being an ally of the West and an opponent of Nasserism.
Hussein does indeed face a very precarious situation. The monarchy and the Rifai government are unpopular with most of the Jordanian people of Palestinian origin, including some half-million refugees from Israeli-held areas of former Palestine. The Palestinians have a relatively high degree of political consciousness and among them not only do the doctrines of Pan-Arab nationalism have great appeal, but Nasser himself has considerable prestige. The Jordanian Communist Party, although illegal and severely harassed, is active among the West Jordanians. The King’s chief source of domestic support is among the more traditionalist half-million East Jordanians—largely Bedouin tribes—and the army, most of which is recruited from the latter groups. Between Jordan’s disparate elements there are virtually irreconcilable antagonisms and there is little loyalty to the idea of Jordan as a state.
The political instability of Jordan is intensified by its extreme poverty and dependence on Western assistance for sheer survival. The combination of a nonviable economy and military expenditures far beyond it resources results in large and chronic budgetary deficits. These were once offset by UK subsidies but since 1957 they have been made up largely by the US. In the coming fiscal year Jordan will require more than $45 million in direct budgetary aid merely to overcome the deficit in a $70 odd million ordinary government budget.
For almost two years, Hussein has kept his domestic opponents off balance by repression and intimidation, including the use of martial law, the jailing of numerous opposition figures, and rigid controls over the parliament. Prime Minister Rifai is an especially strong advocate of these tactics and is so identified in the minds of most Jordanians. Some nationalist opposition leaders have gone into exile in Syria or other Arab states, where they continue to engage in conspiracies against Hussein and his regime. The effectiveness and activities of those who remain have been circumscribed by the regime’s security measures.
The King has shown striking personal courage and determination in the face of dangers and provocations, such as recurrent conspiracies against himself, the assassination of his Hashemite cousins in Baghdad, the isolation of Jordan by a UAR land and air blockade following the British intervention last July. There are, however, indications that the strain is beginning to tell on Hussein and that he stands in increasing need of reassurances that the US is effectively behind him.
But the regime and Jordan have survived primarily because external forces in the area have operated to maintain the state as a buffer zone and to bolster its government in default of a generally acceptable alternative. The UAR has not recently encouraged the overthrow of the King because of: (a) preoccupation with problems in Syria and Iraq; (b) fear of Western reaction; and (c) fear of war with Israel. Israel for its part has also reduced pressures upon the Jordanian regime, principally because it is apprehensive that the collapse of Hussein’s regime would lead to a pro-Nasser successor.
In these circumstances, while Hussein’s and Jordan’s short-term prospects appear better than they have for some time, it cannot be concluded that their position is strong. The extent of hostility toward Hussein and his dynasty within Jordan makes possible at any time a coup or even assassination—a fate which his grandfather met at the hands of an Arab refugee from Palestine. Even the loyalty of some army elements and East Jordan tribal leaders is not above question. There has been considerable evidence of conspiracies among officers, which is sufficient to demonstrate that the Jordanian Army is not immune from the kind of conspiracies against entrenched regimes that have been successfully brought off in other Arab states. Finally, a shift in the external forces might upset the equilibrium at any time.

II. The Involvement of Other Interested States and the UN

The UAR. Nasser’s supporters in Jordan and his influence throughout the Arab world give him at a minimum the capability of creating severe difficulties for Hussein’s government. The degree of pressure Nasser will choose to exert on Hussein is likely to be governed more by the trend of developments in the area as a whole than by events in Jordan.

The present trend toward a lessening of active hostility between Nasser and the Jordanian monarchy may continue for some time. If Nasser’s troubles over Iraq persist, and especially if they lead Nasser to seek better relations with the West, he will almost certainly, in the interests of expediency, accompany this policy by fostering improved relations with Hussein. However, we have little confidence that any accord between Nasser and Hussein will prove lasting. Even if the UAR wished as a matter of policy to avoid the risks and disadvantages of having Jordan tied to it, it would almost certainly feel compelled to give support and encouragement to a Pan-Arab nationalist move in Jordan if one were made.

[Numbered paragraph 14 (141/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

The USSR. The Soviets do not have diplomatic relations with Jordan and have shown little direct interest in Jordan beyond beating the usual propaganda drums against Western imperialism. On the whole, we do not believe that the Soviets are likely to take an initiative [Page 685] in the Jordanian situation under present conditions. They would probably prefer to see a situation of instability and anti-Western trends encouraged by local forces—both Pan-Arab nationalists and Jordanian Communists. If, for example, the Communists come into control of Iraq or if an Arab-Israeli explosion occurred, the Soviets would probably take a more active role.
The UK. With the British subsidy to Jordan now but a fraction of what it was, British influence has inevitably declined. In these circumstances, the idea of disengagement from Jordan has been accepted with good grace in most quarters of the British Government, and with actual relief in other quarters. There was, for example, only limited enthusiasm in the UK over the British intervention in Jordan in 1958, and little opposition to the withdrawal of the British troops six months later.
Nevertheless, the UK does not count itself out as a factor in the Jordanian situation, and is particularly interested in maintaining Jordan as a buffer against the extension of Nasser’s influence. There is considerable evidence that the UK would like to replace Samir Rifai—commonly considered pro-US—with a more pro-British candidate. [5 lines of source text not declassified]
There may be differences between the UK and the US over Jordan stemming primarily from different views concerning Nasser. Divergencies at the local level will persist—notably in political maneuvering with various Jordanian politicians, and over the sale and supply of arms to the Jordanian forces. We do not believe, however, that the Macmillan government (much less a Labor government) will seriously attempt to restore British influence to its former status. Even if it considered such an attempt feasible, it would probably not be willing to pay the price.
The UN. The UN is also involved in the situation through UNRWA support of Jordan’s half-million Palestine refugees. A UN move to abolish or reduce support of the Arab refugees or to resettle them in Arab lands would add critically to Jordan’s political difficulties. UN support of the refugees constitutes a vital contribution to the Jordanian economy and if it were withdrawn, without resettlement of the refugees elsewhere, it would have to be replaced by equivalent aid from other sources in order to prevent economic chaos. Any proposal for setting up a UN trusteeship over the West Bank would be rejected both by Jordanian opinion and by Arab opinion as a whole.

III. Prospective Courses of Action by Hussein and Their Consequences

If Hussein should receive from the US convincing confirmation of the kind of support represented by the Eisenhower statement of April 1957, he would probably retain Rifai and persist in policies of cooperation with the West. His position and that of Jordan would be [Page 686] strengthened at least in the short run. Some of his opponents would probably be intimidated, and certainly his own will and determination to cope with his problems would be fortified. In the longer run it is doubtful that Western support per se would prove effective in maintaining Hussein in power if he were faced with determined efforts by Nasser or anti-Hashemite forces in Jordan to overthrow him. Continued repression of the opposition may serve stability for a time, but it also fans the fires of hostility to the regime. Moreover, the more his dependence upon the West is made manifest, the greater his vulnerability to the potent Arab nationalist charge that he is a Western stooge.
If, at the other extreme, Hussein should become convinced that the US was anxious to disengage from the Jordanian situation and from support for his government, he would feel compelled to reassess his entire position. He would almost certainly move to disassociate himself from Prime Minister Rifai, though Rifai would probably relieve him of any decision in the matter by resigning first.
In the above case, Hussein’s alternatives would be few and unpromising. What bargaining power he has in the area would be substantially reduced. He would almost certainly seek renewed British support and aid. However, he would have little chance of getting the British to resume assistance on the previous scale. He could also seek support from Saudi Arabia, the UAR, or Iraq, but past experience shows that he would be unlikely to get adequate economic and political support. Hussein might even consider an approach to the Soviet Union, but we think it unlikely that he could work out an arrangement with the Bloc which would provide for the survival of his regime.
If in these circumstances Hussein met with no success, he might give serious consideration to desperate measures. He might, for example, attempt to implement his frequently expressed wish to invade Syria, in the belief that discontented elements there would rally to him, and in the hope that the West would come to his support. On the whole, however, we believe he would be more likely to abdicate than to attempt such moves.
If Hussein fails to get the broader commitments which he and Rifai will be seeking, but is convinced that the US will continue political support and financial assistance at about present levels, he would be likely to try a third course of action. In this situation he would probably feel that he must make some retreat from his present outspoken pro-West and anti-Nasser position. He would probably seek to assume a posture somewhat like that of Saudi Arabia and of Lebanon—maintaining relations with the Western Powers, but seeking his peace with the Pan-Arab nationalists and trying to foster a Jordanian brand of Arab nationalism as well. Hussein’s prospects for success in such a course would still depend on public evidence of continued US [Page 687] moral and material support, since without such backing, Hussein’s position would probably be too weak for him to deal effectively with the Pan-Arab nationalists.

IV. The Longer Term Outlook

On the whole, we believe that some accommodation to the forces of Pan-Arab nationalism represents King Hussein’s best hope of retaining his throne for the longest period of time. There are, of course, dangers involved in making concessions to his opponents in and out of Jordan and in releasing turbulent political forces previously suppressed. But these dangers are inherent in the essential political instability of this weak and heterogeneous state.
Even with the best of policies and outside support, we have little confidence in Hussein’s ability over the long run to hold his throne in the face of the political forces at work in Jordan and throughout the area. Eventually, it appears probable that his regime will give way, gradually or abruptly, to a successor more in tune with the political trends prevailing in the Arab world. This may not come without a violent struggle involving external intervention and the breakup of Jordan.
  1. Source: Department of State, INR Files. Secret. A covering note indicated that this estimate, submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence, was prepared by CIA and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and The Joint Staff. All members of the U.S. Intelligence Board concurred with the estimate on March 10, with the exception of the representatives of the AEC, the NSA, the FBI, and the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Special Operations who abstained on the grounds that the topic was outside their jurisdiction.
  2. At a news conference in Augusta, Georgia, on April 24, 1957, Press Secretary Hagerty stated that he had been authorized to say that both the President and the Secretary of State regarded the independence and integrity of Jordan as vital. For the transcript, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1957, p. 1024.
  3. Presently proposed US economic assistance for Jordan for FY 1960 totals over $50 million, of which $40.5 million is direct budget support. Rifai is expected in this visit to ask the US to increase the latter by $9.5 million. [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. The present US commitments with reference to the integrity of Jordan are contained in the Middle East (Eisenhower) Doctrine of March 1957 and in President Eisenhower’s statement of April 1957. In the latter the President declared that the integrity of Jordan was vital to the Security of the US. [Footnote in the source text.]