148. Special National Intelligence Estimate1

SNIE 30-1-68


Scope Note

This estimate deals with the likely course of fedayeen2 activity and its consequences in Israel and Jordan over the next 6-12 months.


Fedayeen activity is posing dilemmas for King Hussein of Jordan and for the Government of Israel. The interaction of events in the two countries is likely to lead to increased border conflict and to threaten Hussein’s control of Jordan.
Hussein would like to restrain the fedayeen, because they block his chances of an accommodation with Israel, bring reprisals, weaken his position on the throne, and infect the army and public with radical and subversive ideas. But he is finding restraint increasingly difficult since the fedayeen are popular symbols of defiance of Israel. The army is dissatisfied with the US arms supply program, and popular resentment toward the US is growing, based on a feeling that the US is partial to Israel. These circumstances may force Hussein to get arms from the USSR, through he fears the political implications of such a deal. If Hussein lost control, his regime would almost certainly be replaced by one more radical and aggressive, perhaps something on the Syrian pattern.
Fedayeen activity is unlikely to drive the Israelis from the occupied areas or endanger the existence of Israel itself. Nevertheless, Israel’s leaders and people are united in their determination to halt Arab terrorism. They are beginning to question their long-established policy [Page 288] of reprisals, and are likely to try counterterrorism and hot pursuit as alternatives. They might mount a major military invasion of the East Bank, but we think they will decide that the disadvantages would outweigh the gains. In the end, they are likely to try to seal off much of the present Jordanian border, though such a defensive posture runs against Israeli military tradition and instinct. Whatever their chosen tactic, they will be very tough in dealing with Arab terrorism and are unlikely to be deterred by the prospect that their efforts might topple Hussein.


The Fedayeen

Arab terrorists—“fedayeen”—have become a critical factor in the internal affairs of Israel and Jordan, and in the relations of these states with one another. For a time after the June war, there was little fedayeen activity. Since the fall of 1967, however, such operations in Israel and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank have been of sizable proportions.3 As of mid-March, the Israelis claimed to have killed over 90 terrorists and to have 1,500 under detention. Some of these figures represent unorganized resistance activity in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank, and many of those detained are probably suspects rather than proved fedayeen, but overall figures reflect a rising level of terrorist activity.
At least 20 organizations have the purpose of using terrorism against Israel. Most of them were formed before the June 1967 war and had as their objective the liberation of Palestine from Israeli domination. Since the June war, some of these organizations have represented themselves as movements of resistance against Israeli occupation of Arab territory. However, the line between these two goals is blurred, and fedayeen raids are carried out against Israel proper as well as against Israel-occupied Arab areas. The basic goal of the fedayeen probably is to undermine the state of Israel itself. The bulk of this activity is carried out by Fatah, which pre-dates the June war, and by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was formed after it. The other major group, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), has trained irregular fighters, but does not appear to have engaged in raids against Israel.
Control of the fedayeen movement in Jordan is a subject of rivalry among Arab States and factions. The PLO for some time has been trying to unite such activity under its aegis, but Fatah has refused to cooperate and has itself sought to unify such groups under its control. [Page 289] The Ba’thist regime in Syria fears the influence of Nasser and of the Arab Nationalists’ Movement in the fedayeen movement and has sought to establish its own predominance over it. The goal of each contestant is predominant influence over the Palestine Arabs as an element in the inter-Arab struggle for power.
Most fedayeen are trained and equipped in Syria, although Algeria, Iraq, and the UAR have done some training. Though some may have been trained in Communist China and North Vietnam, we do not believe that any non-Arab force controls any of the fedayeen. Heavy financial support for liberation activities comes from well-to-do Palestinians and other Arabs in the oil-rich states, and demands appear to be increasingly levied on Jordanians. Nasser has now come out publicly in support of the fedayeen. Once trained, the fedayeen cross into Jordan, where they get help and sympathy from the Iraqi forces in Jordan and from the large numbers of their fellow Palestinians there. Fedayeen usually operate in teams of 4 to 11 men. Their missions include crossing into Israel or Israeli-occupied territory to plant mines, ambush Israeli personnel, conduct sabotage, and collect intelligence. The fedayeen have a mixed collection of small arms, grenades, and mines; according to Israeli reports, they have now acquired 120 mm mortars.
While there were relatively few fedayeen before June 1967, there are now probably some 2,000 in Jordan alone. Many are of a new breed. They are younger, better educated Palestinians with a sense of mission. They are likely to pursue their goals with zeal and increasing skill, though they are still relatively inexperienced. Fedayeen activity is unlikely to drive the Israelis from the occupied areas or endanger the existence of Israel itself.
Harsh repressive measures by Israeli occupation forces have kept the West Bank Arabs from offering much assistance to the fedayeen. The Israelis have apparently penetrated many of the fedayeen organizations, and have been able to kill or capture a substantial number of infiltrators in the act of crossing into Israeli-held territory. But these countermeasures have not stifled the fedayeen. Indeed, each successful incident will probably further boost their determination to continue and enlarge their activities. Their methods, however, will probably remain much the same; they will try to take Israeli lives and inflict damage on property, will have some successes, and will remain objects of very serious concern to Israel.
The Israelis have also launched severe reprisal raids designed to make the Jordanians withhold support from the fedayeen. For example, on 15 February, the Israelis shelled and bombed a refugee camp which they said was harboring fedayeen. On 21 March, several thousand Israeli troops crossed the Jordan River, seized the town of Karamah, a terrorist base, killed and captured a number of alleged fedayeen, [Page 290] and killed at least 60 Jordanian soldiers as well. These reprisals in particular have, contrary to Israeli expectations, caused an upsurge of popular support for the fedayeen, who have achieved a new respectability as Arab patriots.

Hussein’s Position

King Hussein has been in a difficult situation since the June war. At that time he had earned almost universal approval at home by joining with the other Arabs in fighting Israel, but this did not entirely offset the shock of defeat and the great loss of territory. As Hussein has tenaciously held on to his connection with the US, which most Arabs believe strongly supports Israel, and as his diplomatic efforts to regain lost territory have not succeeded, frustration has become more open and pronounced in Jordan.
This situation makes it extremely difficult for King Hussein to arrive at an acceptable policy towards the fedayeen. He has endeavored to restrain their activities, for he recognizes that they result in Israeli reprisals which he can neither prevent nor protect against. These reprisals damage his country and his people; they also increase resentment against his regime by the Jordanian people and army. Hussein also believes that continued terrorism is destroying the chances of an accommodation with the Israelis which would return most of the West Bank to him. Moreover, the fedayeen owe allegiance to no government and constitute a subversive element which could provide a focus of antiregime sentiment. While the upper echelons of the Jordanian Government share Hussein’s views, the bulk of the Jordanian people feel considerable sympathy for the anti-Israeli actions of the fedayeen. By and large, the Jordanian Army is not hostile to the infiltrators; some army units have provided covering fire for fedayeen crossing the Jordan River. They have probably, despite orders to the contrary, given them material support. Further, the Jordanian Army has not inhibited the open assistance given the fedayeen by Iraqi troops in Jordan.
Thanks to the rising popularity of the fedayeen, and to general anger in Jordan at Israeli reprisals, King Hussein now finds it increasingly difficult to restrict the anti-Israeli actions of the fedayeen who live in his territory. He is seeking accommodation with their leaders so as to curb criminal or antiregime activity which these groups might undertake. He probably is also trying to exploit differences among rival fedayeen groups and among the Arab regimes and factions that support them. There is little likelihood that this situation will change, and the fedayeen will probably operate from Jordan into Israel without fear of effective official opposition. As for Hussein, either permitting them to operate freely or trying to assert some degree of control over them is likely to adversely affect his position over a period of time.
In the past, Hussein’s principal support has been the army, but the sympathy of some of its elements with terrorist activities may make it receptive to the general hostility of the fedayeen to the monarchy. This process is likely to be hastened by rising dissatisfaction with what the officer corps considers an unacceptably slow pace of arms resupply by the US. Military leaders have noted Hussein’s lengthy, frustrating negotiations with the US—negotiations which have so far led to an agreement for arms supplies but have not yet resulted in the arrival of any weapons. They contrast this with the speedy Soviet resupply of the UAR and Syria and the standing Soviet offer to fully equip the Jordanian Armed Forces.
Though conservative Arab friends, particularly King Faisal, strongly oppose Jordan’s receiving Soviet weapons, military officers are likely to press Hussein to do so. To help fend off this pressure, he is seeking to get Western arms from Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and perhaps from Pakistan and Iran. Hussein has consistently refused to accept Soviet arms but would almost certainly accede if he felt it necessary to enable him to remain in power. A Soviet arms deal would be popular with the military and the public at large. Hussein might also consider that arms from the Soviets and better relations with the USSR would afford new protection from Israeli reprisal attacks. He might reason that Syria’s close relations with the USSR have been a principal reason why Israel has left Syria alone.
Even if Hussein accepted Soviet arms, he would still try to maintain countervailing ties with the West and with the conservative Arab States. To limit adverse effects in his relationships with these countries, he might attempt to secure only specific categories of arms—e.g., tanks or artillery—from Moscow. Hussein would almost certainly take the line that he had turned to the USSR only as a last resort. His basic international policies would continue to take account of Western interests. He would continue to seek an accommodation with Israel. While he might benefit from increased domestic popularity, he would seek to rule through the same group of generally monarchist conservatives which has staffed Jordan’s Government for years.
Though Hussein’s hold on power has been weakened, it remains reasonably good. But the pressures against him-aggressive Israeli military reprisals, domestic discontent, lack of strong support from fellow Arabs and from the West—are substantial, and the initiatives open to him are not promising. Much will depend on the interaction of forces in the area; a continued high level of fedayeen activity accompanied by Israeli military countermeasures would seriously weaken him. Some progress by the Jarring mission, Egyptian or Iraqi moves to limit support for fedayeen, or receipt of arms would ease matters. Hussein has ridden out severe storms in the past and could [Page 292] do so again. But he is likely to be in substantial jeopardy through the next year at least.
A successor regime to the Jordanian monarchy would probably include numerous Palestinians and Arab nationalist army officers. It would be strongly anti-Israel. It would be more radical than Hussein’s government and would be drawn toward cooperation with other revolutionary-minded Arab States. It would probably seek closer relations with the USSR and would be considerably less well disposed toward the US. But, in some aspects at least, its radical tendencies would be tempered by the continuing vital importance of subsidies from the conservative regimes of Kuwait, Libya, and Saudi Arabia.

Israeli Responses to Terrorism

Israel has had a long-standing policy of reprisal in force for terrorist incidents involving loss of Israeli lives. But this policy has come under domestic criticism as a result of the Karamah raid. Preparations for this raid were not concealed; most of the fedayeen had left Karamah before the Israelis arrived and have since returned. Although raids are planned so as to limit the loss of Israeli troops, 25 Israelis were killed and over 70 wounded in the Karamah operation. This was due in part to the fact that the Jordanian Army, much to the Israelis’ surprise, chose to fight rather than stand by. Opponents of the reprisal policy point out that future raids like that on Karamah are likely to cause heavy Israeli casualties and will probably fail to achieve their purpose. Fedayeen operations since Karamah have taken several Israeli lives. Jerusalem’s Mayor Kollek has said publicly that reprisals do not crush the spirits of the Arabs but, on the contrary, lead to increased support for terrorism and to more recruits for the fedayeen organizations. His position apparently has some support in the Israeli Cabinet.
Despite this opposition, the commitment to reprisal is deeply ingrained, especially in the Israeli military establishment. Though Israeli military leaders are probably aware that reprisals weaken Hussein’s position, they are willing to take actions which risk his replacement by a new, more hostile regime in Jordan. Where the Israelis have previously seen advantages in Hussein’s retention of power, they may now be indifferent to his survival and may even see benefits in his departure. Were he to disappear, the Israelis could tell the US that the situation in the Near East had so evolved that Israel was its only friend, could hope for greater US military supplies, and could argue that returning the West Bank to an anti-Western regime would not be in the interest of either the US or Israel.
The Israelis are adopting new antiterrorist measures to supplement or replace large-scale reprisal. They have recently engaged in hot pursuit with small forces into Jordanian territory. Other measures [Page 293] being considered include the dispatch of Israeli terrorists into Arab territory, with the object of inflicting greater property damage and loss of life than the fedayeen cause in Israel. Such activity will probably appear in the next few months. Such counterterrorism would probably have no more satisfactory results in stopping terrorism than the policy of massive reprisal has had. Such raids would probably lead to further loss of Israeli lives and would not prevent the fedayeen from operating in Israel. But the advantage, Israel may believe, would be that it would make Israel a less conspicuous target for international condemnation.
If the Israelis are not able to contain terrorism by such means as increased police action, reprisals, and counterterrorism, they would then be forced to choose other measures, none particularly palatable. One course would be to mount a major military assault against the East Bank, overrunning the populated area of Jordan. But such a move would risk a renewal of broader Arab-Israeli hostilities, and could bring on a new international crisis. World reaction would be extremely hostile. Though generally confident of US support—or of at least tacit acquiescence for the moves it makes—Israel might feel that an all-out invasion of Jordan would dangerously threaten American tolerance of Israeli militancy. Further, the Israelis probably recognize the great disadvantages of occupying the East Bank, with its million and a half Arabs and its unviable economy now being kept afloat by large subsidies from rich Arab countries. And once Israel withdrew from Jordan, the fedayeen would probably soon reemerge. On balance, we believe the chances are against a massive Israeli invasion of Jordan.
An alternative, which has received some attention in Israel, would be to seal off at least the most troublesome stretches of the present Jordanian cease-fire and armistice lines with such devices as barbed wire, sensors, electrified fences, and land mines. The French used such a barrier, on the whole successfully, to seal Algeria’s Tunisian and Moroccan frontiers during the rebellion. Israel, with a shorter and more easily patrolled frontier with Jordan, could probably make such a barrier work fairly effectively. Some of these devices have already been installed in selected border areas. Though a major defensive barrier would not be able to stop the fedayeen completely, it would probably reduce their activities—and cut Israeli casualties—sharply. The million and a half Arabs now in Israel and Israeli-occupied territory have not helped the fedayeen much. If virtually cut off from contact with and supplies from their Arab brethren, they probably could not engage in significant, organized terrorist activity.
There almost certainly are strong voices raised against such a proposition in Israel. A heavily fortified 200-mile frontier barrier would be expensive to build; it would have to be patrolled by large numbers [Page 294] of Israeli soldiers. It would run counter to the established Israeli military doctrine that a defensive posture is anathema. And it would ease domestic pressure on Hussein, whose efforts to restrain the fedayeen would then be assumed by the Israelis themselves.
Nonetheless, the Israelis will, over a period of time, probably be forced to opt for more effective defensive measures to seal off Israel and Israeli-occupied territory from Jordanian-based fedayeen operations. Israel’s traditional reluctance to adopt a posture of static defense stemmed in large part from the feeling that this would permanently commit it to unsatisfactory frontiers; it would feel little inhibition on that score about the present shorter and more defensible cease-fire line. At the same time, Israel would be prepared to use various forms of retaliation against Jordan—including very severe ones—if defensive measures are insufficient to prevent Israeli casualties.
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79-R01012A, ODDI Registry of NIE and SNIE Files. Secret; Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the cover sheet, the estimate was submitted by Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, and concurred in by the U.S. Intelligence Board on April 18.
  2. In this estimate, we use the Arab word “fedayeen” in place of “terrorist” as often as possible. “Fedayeen” was originally used to describe emissaries of the medieval Assassins sent to kill their political opponents. It means one who sells his life in a sacred cause, thus redeeming himself in the hereafter. The English equivalent usually used by the Arabs is “commando.” [Footnote in the source text.]
  3. In mid-March 1968, the Israeli Defense Minister said that 168 Israelis and 72 Arab citizens had been killed or wounded by the fedayeen since the war, in contrast with 58 killed or wounded in the preceding year. [Footnote in the source text.]