Israeli leaders have opened an aggressive diplomatic campaign to warn Jordan’s King Hussein and the international community of possible trouble on what for the past 15 years has been Israel’s most peaceful border.
Officials here charge that Hussein’s rapprochement with Yasser Arafat’s Fatah wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the resulting increase in the PLO presence in Amman, are connected directly with a surge in terrorist activity aimed at targets in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
One right-wing Israeli minister has said that retaliatory strikes against PLO offices in Jordan should not be ruled out, and some West Bank Palestinians assert that the Israeli campaign is a prelude to possible Israeli military action.
Leaders on the Israeli left and in the center have joined in expressions of concern, but they dismiss talk of a military response.
“We don’t want to create the impression that Israel has declared war on Jordan,” said Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who has been careful to couple his warnings about the PLO-Jordanian alliance with statements of confidence in Hussein.
“I have faith in the sincerity of King Hussein’s intentions to achieve peace with us,” Peres recently told a visiting delegation of French Socialists. “I have no faith in Arafat.”
Some analysts believe that Israeli leaders are exaggerating the security threat from Jordan with an eye on political concerns, domestic as well as international.
In this view, the politicians are reflecting a shift in public mood toward the political right, particularly among young people, and are trying to outdo one another in showing how tough on terrorism they are.
Also, there is widespread suspicion among Israeli leaders of almost every political stripe that the PLO is likely to be the primary beneficiary of Hussein’s latest Mideast peace initiative. Thus the Israeli diplomatic campaign is perceived as being aimed at scuttling the initiative, or at least at cutting the PLO down to size by driving a wedge between Hussein and Arafat.
According to informed sources here, Israeli leaders pressed the issue in a series of meetings in August with Richard W. Murphy, assistant U.S. secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and Thomas R. Pickering, the new American ambassador to Israel.
Over the weekend, Peres confirmed that Israel has used the United States as an intermediary to pass warnings about the PLO buildup in Amman to Hussein.
In 1970, Hussein ordered his troops to attack what had become a PLO “state within a state” in Jordan. The attack, which has come to be known among Palestinians as Black September, brought peace along Jordan’s 250-mile border with Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Arafat then shifted his operations to Lebanon. But the Israeli invasion of 1982 drove the PLO out of southern Lebanon and Beirut, and an internal rebellion by pro-Syrian PLO dissidents the following year ousted Arafat and his remaining loyalists from northern Lebanon.
Council Met in Amman
The rapprochement between Hussein and Arafat gained momentum late last year when the Palestine National Council, the Palestinians’ so-called parliament in exile, was convened in Amman. Then, last February, the two Arab leaders agreed to a “joint framework” for peace that envisaged a confederation between Jordan and a Palestinian West Bank.
As this process developed, Israeli officials occasionally aired their reservations, but their reaction was relatively subdued until a few weeks ago.
“I think the PLO became stronger in Jordan than we anticipated,” a senior government source said.
According to Israeli military sources, hundreds of key PLO officials have set up headquarters in Amman since leaving Lebanon. Counting about 2,000 uniformed fighting men of the Palestine Liberation Army, who are in Jordanian military camps and under Jordanian army command, there are as many as 4,000 PLO activists in Jordan, according to one officer, who said that he was quoting Israeli intelligence estimates.
Among the new arrivals are said to be the PLO’s so-called Western Sector Office, which is responsible for operations in the West Bank, and “Force 17,” an elite unit described as responsible, among other things, for Arafat’s personal security.
The PLO buildup in Amman corresponds with a surge of terrorist attacks in Israel and the West Bank. Ten Israeli Jews have been killed so far this year, and 13 in the past 10 months. The army has reported a series of attempted terrorist infiltrations by sea, an increase in attempted bombings and an upsurge in West Bank shooting incidents involving Israeli vehicles.
Senior government sources here say they have “solid evidence” linking PLO offices in Amman with this terrorist activity, but they have not provided details.
On the last two weekends, the Israeli navy has reported seizing chartered vessels carrying Force 17 guerrillas headed for Lebanon. In both instances, according to the military, the PLO men were planning to cross by land from southern Lebanon into Israel to carry out terrorist attacks against Jewish civilians.
Israeli officials have never taken the position that Jordan is permitting the PLO to mount attacks across the border. On the contrary, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said as recently as Friday that Hussein is working to prevent such attacks.
The problem, according to Israeli officials, is that by basing itself in Jordan, the PLO has drastically shortened its lines of communication with supporters in the West Bank