One of history’s worst-timed decisions

Back in 1967, King Hussein of Jordan was not very popular with his hard-line Arab neighbor states. President Nasser of Egypt called him an ‘imperialist lackey’ for his tepid support of Arab nationalism.

Nasser, you will recall, had kicked the UN peacekeeping force out of the Sinai Peninsula, closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, and announced: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.”

Israel, nobody’s fool, had listened to Nasser’s comments. Their as-yet-unspoken reaction was, “Oh, yeah?” They would give voice to that reaction in spectacularly effective fashion in the Six-Day War, less than a week away.

King Hussein chose this propitious moment to make buddies with Nasser.

King Hussein was met at Almaza military airport by the president on an unannounced visit to the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Five hours later, Cairo Radio announced the two leaders had signed the deal stating that “the two countries consider any attack on either of them is an attack on both and will take measures including the use of armed forces to repulse such an attack”.

Again, Israel’s reaction was an emphatic, “Oh, yeah?”

As a result of his decision, Israel reoriented its plans and included the West Bank in them. Within two weeks of King Hussein’s uncanny display of political acumen, Jordan had lost the West Bank and Jerusalem; Egypt had lost the Sinai Peninsula and control over the Suez Canal; Syria had lost the Golan Heights; the air forces and armies of all three nations lay in blazing wreckage and scattered bodies; and half a million refugees had flooded into Jordan from the West Bank, and into Egypt from the Gaza Strip, creating what was to become the Palestinian problem.

They do say that timing is everything. I daresay King Hussein had plenty of time to ponder that, and rue its truth, in subsequent years.


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