316. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • The Situation in Jordan

The military situation remains about the same this morning with sporadic fighting continuing in Amman and the Jordanians beating back repeated attempts by the Syrians to drive south from the Irbid area. In short, the Jordanians are holding their own against both the fedayeen and the Syrian tanks. It could be that—as long as the Iraqis continue to stay out—a stand-off is developing around present positions at the present level of hostilities. If this is true, and if Hussein has little hope of driving the Syrians out with his own forces, then his choice is among (a) risking the disadvantages of outside intervention, (b) continuing the war with the added disadvantage of a consolidating Syrian-fedayeen position in the north and (c) some sort of compromise settlement, which—given the above—would probably further reduce his authority.

An Israeli note responding to our answers to their questions was delivered to State last night. The text is at Tab A and a fuller analysis is being provided for the 9:30 a.m. meeting.2

Israeli Reaction

The Israelis have responded to our answers to their questions concerning intervention in Jordan with a request for more assurances and clarifications of our position. Text at Tab A [Analysis is included in your book for this morning’s meeting.] Meanwhile, they are apparently continuing to mobilize their armed forces for possible actions.

According to our Defense Attaché in Tel Aviv there is a continuing state of high military alert in the Israeli Bet Shean region opposite the Irbid Heights, a substantial reserve mobilization is in process and there is considerable military movement on the roads including troops in battle gear. The Defense Attaché believes that the [Page 893] present positioning of Israeli forces would permit military intervention at almost any point in the Jordan Valley or even from the Golan Heights area.

King Hussein’s Position

Ambassador Brown finally was able to get in touch with the palace last night concerning our request for a clarification of King Hussein’s thoughts on Israeli ground intervention in Jordan and coordination directly with the Israelis. He had to double talk again with Zaid Rifai who said that the King “prefers action from up high” and that “if anything is to be done low it should not be here but away.” Rifai added that “we agree it is important to discuss details” and will do so “as soon as possible but do not know how long it will be.” Rifai also said that it is important for the U.S. to keep up the pressures it has already asserted and that the principal aim must be to get the Syrians withdrawn so that the Iraqi do not also get the idea they can get away with something. [Tab B]

Your personal message to King Hussein has been called to our embassy in Amman but because of the continued fighting it apparently has not yet been delivered.3 [Tab C]

The Military Situation

There is no significant change in the military situation this morning. Zaid Rifai, the King’s confidant, does, however, report that if the Syrians do not move up reinforcements and if Iraq does not intervene, he thinks that the Jordanians can handle the situation. Rifai may be right but it should be noted that in the past there have been sharp ups and downs in his assessment. His comment is noted so you will be aware of it—not because it is worthy of confidence. [Cable at Tab D]

The Israelis report [Tab E] that the fighting between the Jordanians and Syrians in the Irbid area continues along the same lines but that it is “not a big battle.” The Jordanians remain in defensive positions with the Syrians attacking though apparently not in a very determined way. According to Zaid Rifai, the Jordanians now have tank parity with the Syrians—resulting from the number of Syrian tanks they have knocked out and, according to the Israelis, from logistical problems.

The Iraqi forces have made some small moves in the last 24 hours, but the Israelis still are not clear about their intentions. Zaid Rifai, [Page 894] however, says that the Iraqis have promised not to let the Syrians through the Mafrak area—are on the main invasion routes to Amman and where most of the Iraqi forces are now located. It is hard to say at this point how much faith can be placed in Iraqi promises.

The Israelis report that a Libyan force has arrived in Damascus but they have no information on its size or what it will do.

The War with the Fedayeen

King Hussein and the number two man of the Palestine Liberation Organization announced this morning an agreement providing for the movement of the fedayeen out of the cities and back to the borders with Israel. This was then followed up by an order from the military governor lifting the curfew in some parts of Amman for several hours and providing that military units cease firing during this period. It seems doubtful, however, that these moves really signal the end of the fighting, since the PLO leader involved was captured several days ago and the organization’s leader, Yasir Arafat, is still at large and calling for continuation of the fighting. It is more likely that this is simply a tactical response by Hussein to increasing pressure from the other Arab states that he stop the fighting. In any case, heavy artillery started at dawn in Amman and lasted for about a half hour and considerable machine gun and small arms fire continues in the streets.

The CIA morning Situation Report is at Tab F.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–076, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Middle East 9/23/70. Secret; Nodis. The tabs are attached but not printed. All brackets are in the original.
  2. See Document 318.
  3. See footnote 6, Document 313.