How Black September Helped to Cement the U.S.-Israel Alliance

Aug. 28 2020

Next Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of the Palestinian uprising in Jordan, and the accompanying wave of hijackings, that came to be known as Black September. In 1967, the Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser—looking for a way to strike back at Israel after losing the Six-Day War—had set the stage for the revolt by supporting Yasir Arafat in his takeover of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Under Arafat’s leadership, the group, based in Jordan, launched frequent guerrilla attacks against Israel—taking advantage of the weakness of the Jordanian monarchy. Sean Durns explains what happened next:

In November 1969, clashes erupted between Jordan’s army and the PLO. Low-level fighting went on intermittently for months with King Hussein still desperate to avoid a full-on confrontation. The king even sought to placate Arafat by offering him a government post, which he refused.

On September 1, 1970, shots were fired at Hussein’s motorcade. Five days later, Palestinian terrorists [affiliated with the PLO] hijacked three airplanes, two American and one Swiss. [Finally]. Hussein, belatedly, chose to act, deploying his troops to crush Arafat and his supporters. The PLO, in turn, called for the king’s overthrow. Pitched battles erupted on Jordan’s streets. Worse still, on September 19, elements of the Syrian military crossed Jordan’s northern border to assist the PLO fighters.

Washington saw Jordan was one of its few reliable allies in the region, in contrast to Soviet-backed Egypt and Syria. But, with its military bogged down in Vietnam, it was reluctant to heed Amman’s calls for help:

On September 20, Secretary of State Henry Kisssinger told Israel’s ambassador to the United States, the future prime minister Yitzḥak Rabin, that King Hussein had asked to have Israel’s air force attack the Syrian invaders. . . . Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir ordered the reconnaissance flights and Israel sent troops to its border with Syria. Israeli jets, meanwhile, flew low over Syrian tanks in Jordan—sending an unmistakable signal that Israel would intervene.

While the IDF never engaged the Syrians, its air cover was sufficient to allow Hussein’s forces to push them back; thereafter Jordan crushed the uprising and expelled the PLO to Lebanon. Both Amman and Washington learned that, rather than be a liability, Israeli military prowess could help them protect their interests and maintain stability.

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Read more at National Interest

More about: Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger, Israeli history, Jordan, PLO, US-Israel relations, Yasir Arafat

 

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy