Jordanians brace for war they hope will not come WAR IN THE GULF

January 19, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

AMMAN, Jordan -- Tucked uncomfortably between Iraq and Israel, Jordan braced last night for a war it hopes will never come, as the Arab world waited to see if Israel would retaliate against yesterday's Iraqi missile strikes.

"Indeed, we feel endangered in our position," said Ali Hawamdeh, a member of the Jordanian Parliament. "But if Israel comes, we will oppose them all over the skies of Jordan and the land of Jordan, whatever the price."

Jordan's 100,000-man army, on full alert for the past several weeks, is concentrated mostly in the low valley of the Jordan River, opposite the West Bank territories taken by Israel in 1967.

But Jordan's defenses were powerless to stop the seven Iraqi missiles that soared through the skies yesterday on their way to targets in Israel.

The attack brought jubilation to Jordan's Palestinians, who make up half the population, and Islamic fundamentalists. Holy men at some Amman mosques prayed for an Iraqi-led jihad (holy war) that would go after Israel.

In the hours after the beginning of the initial pre-dawn raids by the United Nations alliance, Jordan's Ministry of Information issued a statement condemning the "brutal attack against an Arab and Muslim country and people which has always acted to help its Arab brethren. . . . Everyone who took part in this will bear the responsibility before God, people and history."

Parliament declared its support for Iraq in the conflict yesterday, labeling the United States a "Great Satan" set on dominating the Arab and Muslim worlds.

When officials were asked yesterday for a reaction to the missile attack on Israel and the heightened prospects for war in Jordan, they said that they didn't wish to comment on a hypothetical situation.

The attack also put Jordan in a ticklish situation because of its earlier position, announced by King Hussein, that the country would attempt

to stop any nation attempting to cross its land or airspace as part of an attack.

The warning still applies for Israeli troops and warplanes, officials said yesterday, but there has been no government protest of the Iraqi missiles that crossed Jordan.

Mr. Hawamdeh brushed aside the apparent contradiction by saying that Israeli missiles would also be unstoppable. "I think we cannot stand against these missiles," he said.

King Hussein also is caught between incompatible sides -- the rabidly anti-Western Palestinians and Islamic fundamentalists who could topple him if not placated, and the more pragmatic part of his population, which values Jordan's economic ties to neighboring Arab states now allied against Iraq.

Saudi Arabia, for instance, became upset enough at Jordan's behavior to cut off the flow of oil, weakening an already frail economy.

The king's attempt to handle this dilemma may have been illustrated best by his support for economic sanctions against Iraq while refusing to join the anti-Iraq alliance in the Saudi desert.

Jordan has taken pains to ride out the threat of war by keeping the country running as close to normal as possible. The national airline resumed a partial schedule of flights yesterday, and state radio and television confine news of the war to regularly scheduled broadcasts.

But tension shows in the large number of closed shops and in an inordinate outbreak of anti-Western incidents during the past few days.

A European news photographer was beaten and kicked Thursday after having tried to take pictures of men lined up to enlist for the army.

Also Thursday, a man fired several shots into a branch of an American bank; there were no injuries. Yesterday, the U.S. Embassy issued an advisory urging all U.S. nationals to stay indoors or at least to avoid crowds and remain as inconspicuous as possible.

"If there is war here, it will get ugly for Americans, I am afraid," said one Palestinian merchant.

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