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Jordanian Civil War (1970–1971)


Fighting between the Jordanian army and Palestinian guerrillas in 1970 and 1971.

Between 1967 and 1970, Palestinian guerrilla groups associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) established a strong presence in Jordan. By the summer of 1970, their attacks against Israel, which prompted Israeli counterattacks, and their activities within Jordan posed a significant threat to the stability, if not the existence, of the Jordanian monarchy. As a complicating factor, in the aftermath of the Arab defeat in the 1967 ArabIsrael War, Iraqi troops were stationed in Jordan. They, along with a strong Syrian military presence just north of Jordan's border, constituted an additional security threat to the regime of King Hussein ibn Talal.

In June 1970, guerrillas and the Jordanian army clashed in the capital, Amman, but fighting ceased after an agreement was struck allowing Palestinian fighters to continue their presence. In early September, another round of clashes erupted, with serious new complications. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), led by George Habash, hijacked four international airplanes, forcing three to land in Jordan with their hostages. After Jordanian authorities negotiated an evacuation of the passengers and an end to the standoff, the PFLP blew up the empty planes. This spectacle, in the full glare of the international media, drove King Hussein to appoint a military cabinet, signaling his intent to confront the guerrillas once and for all. Jordanian troops began a major assault against PLO targets on 17 September. Iraqi troops, by minor repositioning, indicated they would not interfere; but on 19 September as many as 200 Syrian tanks, along with Syrian-controlled Palestine Liberation Army forces, invaded to assist PLO forces. Jordan requested help from the United States, and Israel made moves indicating it might intervene. Because of internal Syrian politics and direct communications between King Hussein and Hafiz al-Asad, then Syrian air force commander, Syrian planes did not join the battle. Bereft of air cover, the Syrian force was driven back by Jordanian planes and tanks on 22 September. Subsequently, Jordan's army defeated the Palestinian guerrillas on the ground after ten days' fighting and thousands of casualties, including heavy civilian losses in Palestinian refugee camps.

With considerable assistance from Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser, King Hussein and PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat (who had escaped from Jordan) signed a peace accord in Cairo dated 27 September, which called for the withdrawal of the Palestinian forces from Amman. In July 1971, the army undertook extensive and harsh mopping-up operations in northern Jordan, driving the PLO completely out of Jordan. As punishment for its actions against the Palestinians, Kuwait and Libya ended financial aid to Jordan, and Syria closed its border and airspace to Jordanian traffic. Although Jordan suffered economically and politically for its defeat of the guerrillas, it eventually renormalized relations with the Arab world, especially after the October 1973 ArabIsraeli War.

see also arafat, yasir; habash, george; hussein ibn talal; nasser, gamal abdel; palestine liberation organization (plo); popular front for the liberation of palestine.


Gubser, Peter. Jordan: Crossroads of Middle Eastern Events. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983.

Sayigh, Yezid. Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 19491993. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

peter gubser
updated by michael r. fischbach

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