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Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has secretly dispatched troops across the frontier in Jordan in preparation for an attack on Israel, according to the intelligence sources of DEBKA-Net-Weekly.
Iraq military units have been infiltrating neighboring Jordan for the past 10 days, according to the report. Their mission, say DEBKA sources, is to reach the Israeli border, cross the Jordan River and move into the main Palestinian cities of the West Bank – Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus and Bethlehem – and fight alongside the Palestinians.
The invading units are highly trained and well-equipped commandos able to operate and survive in the field for long periods when cut off from their headquarters and sources of supply, the report says. They are still reportedly in the Jordanian desert.
The incursion was detected by Israeli reconnaissance planes and the Ofek 3 and 5 spy satellites.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon immediately dispatched high-ranking Israeli army intelligence officers to Amman to show King Abdullah of Jordan the evidence of the Iraqi penetration to his kingdom.
The king at once proclaimed a supreme state of alert in all Jordanian army units. Israel poured troops into the Jordan Valley region, deploying them along the Jordan River and Jordanian frontier to block off the West Bank to Iraqi penetration.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources, the Iraqi forces’ first entry point in Jordan was Wadi El Murbah in the central zone of its eastern border with Iraq. From there, they moved to Wadi Athner. A second penetration area was Wadi Hawran in southwest Iraq, not far from the points where the Iraqi, Saudi and Jordanian frontiers meet. The Iraqi forces advanced through the wadi, bypassing Jabal Unayzah in Iraq and coming out inside Jordanian territory near the town of Ruwayshid.
DEBKA’s sources in Amman and Jerusalem report that both Israel and Jordan view the Iraqi military operation as an act of war against them. While maintaining official silence, certainly on the Iraqi invasion of Jordan, both countries consider themselves in a state of war with Iraq.
Jordan did attempt in the first days of the incursion to encircle the Iraqi intruders and capture them. But some days of intensive effort with airborne support showed the Jordanian Special Forces that they are no match for 1,000 to 1,500 crack Iraqi commandos. Jordanian fighter planes sent into action were met by dozens of Iraqi fighters, put up over the penetration regions, from Al-Baghdadi, the main Iraqi air base in the central region, south of the town of Arrutba. When SA-6 surface-to-air missile batteries at two recently reopened Iraqi air bases, H3 in the northwest and H3 in the northeast, lit up their radar and locked on to the elderly Jordanian aircraft, lacking electronic counter-measures, they turned tail without snapping a single reconnaissance photo.
The Jordanian monarch then reportedly made his first approach to the U.S. and Israel for help. Israeli reconnaissance aircraft, under the umbrella of Israeli fighter planes, flew into Jordanian airspace. Whenever they appeared, Iraqi planes bugged out and Iraqi missile battery operators turned off their radar. Jordan also sent desert reconnaissance patrols and intelligence units into Iraq to bring back information on supply lines and reinforcements.
What they found sounded even louder alarm bells in Amman: The elite Hummarabi division of the Republican Guard, equipped with T-72 tanks, was now in position between the Jordanian border and the two H bases. They also learned that the Iraqi army had sent at least four armored infantry brigades into the area.
Equally troubling, at the beginning of the week, the Iraqi force already in Jordan was sighted moving west, several groups having reached the sand dunes and wadis known as Abu Haffrah, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) inside Jordanian territory.
King Abdullah decided to take command of the Jordanian forces still chasing the Iraqis intruders.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that the longer the king, a career officer before he ascended the throne, spent out in the field in eastern Jordan, the more anxious he became. He realized that overcoming the Iraqi force already inside the kingdom would not end his worries. There was still the next stage of Saddam’s plan to face up to, as indicated in the latest intelligence reports on his desk. Iraq had a second wave of troops poised ready to cross into Jordan. Furthermore, Saddam Hussein had secretly appointed his eldest son, Qusay, supreme commander of what the Iraqi president was now describing as “the Iraqi-Jordanian-Israeli front”.
At a military ceremony attended by top Iraqi generals, Saddam, the reports said, had sworn to spare neither effort nor money to provide Qusay with any reinforcements he might request.
Qusay is said to have set up his headquarters at al-Bagdad air force base, to the rear of the Iraqi forces deployed between the H bases and the Jordanian border.
Jordanian intelligence also reported a large concentration of Iraqi forces on the main roads leading from Iraq to Damascus and from Iraq to the Golan Heights.
The Jordanian king was forced to realize that he was not dealing merely with a small-scale invasion of mobile Iraqi forces, but with preparations by his eastern neighbor for war on a regional scale, far beyond the scope of the Jordanian army on its own.
What the intelligence reports omitted to mention was whether Saddam Hussein’s move had been coordinated with either – or both – Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
DEBKA-Weekly-Net sources in Jerusalem and Washington report that at the beginning of the week, King Abdullah put his overseas connections to the test. He asked President Bush for American intervention against the Iraqi threat. He also turned to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to invoke the secret Israeli-Jordanian defense pact signed by the late King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin that obliges Israel to act against military or terrorist elements endangering the existence of the Kingdom of Jordan or the Hashemite throne.
Several of DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that Israel has taken initial steps in fulfillment of its pact with Jordan. Those steps have reportedly met with some resistance in Washington. When consulted, the Bush administration indicated that however small, Israel’s moves must be kept utterly secret so as not to upset U.S. plans for Iraq.
The coming weekend will be crucial in this regard, according to the report. The Jordanian-Iraqi clashes, if they continue, could be the first military step on the road to a Middle East war – without the world even noticing.
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