P. J. Vatikiotis: Politics and the Military in Jordan: a study of the Arab Legion. 1921–1957. Frank Cass and Co. 30s.

Professor Vatikiotis sets the tone of his book by dedicating it ‘To the British officers who trained and commanded the legion until 1956 and to their Arab successors’. He refrains from a general critique of the Jordanian army as a means of imperial control and penetration, and confines his analysis to its organizational development and role in the history of Jordan itself. Within these limits, his study is extremely useful both for explaining the resilience of the Hashemite dynasty, and the weaknesses of the Jordanian Army in the face of the latest Israeli attack.

The territory of Jordan was originally allocated to Britain in 1920 by the San Remo Treaty and remained, as the Principality of Transjordan, under direct British control until 1946. The British were able to obtain a client king in the person of Abdullah, one of the sons of Sherif Husayn of Mecca, who arrived in Transjordan at the end of 1920 on the way to help his elder brother Faysal drive the French out of Syria. Faysal was given Iraq instead; and Abdullah remained in Jordan. The British had to eliminate the rivals to their client and to do this they established in 1923 the Arab Legion (al-jaysh al-arabi) and then purged it of all isíiqlal (independence party) sympathizers. By 1924 Abdullah, through his British-officered Legion, was in complete control.

After independence, and the 1948 war with Israel, the régime had to confront two problems: first, it had to assimilate the population of the west bank of the Jordan it had incorporated into the Jordanian state. Secondly, it had to build up a larger force to meet the threat of Israeli attack as well as to control the potentially rebellious Palestinian population. The army was fortified under Glubb with technical sections manned by Palestinians and townsmen, while the operational sections were manned by Beduin. This meant that the key troops, the Beduin, could be used by the king to put down the Palestinians; and that no military coup that did not have Beduin backing would succeed. This was the reason for the failure of the two attempted putsches of Abdullah Tel (1949) and Ali Abu Nuwar (1957). The key to the strength of Abdullah and his grandson Husayn has lain in their ability to confine membership of the operational sections of the army to the Beduin who are loyal to them.

The Jordanian army was never an offensive force: up to 1948 it served to suppress rivals to Abdullah; since then it has also aimed to defend the territory of Jordan. The West Bank was always strategically indefensible and would have needed a larger force than Jordan could raise to defend it properly. The recent loss of the West Bank has eliminated the main problem facing Hashemite rule—that of the Palestinian population—but has replaced it with another—the loss of tourist revenue. Though battered, the army still remains the main prop to Husayn’s rule; provided it remains loyal to him, and provided his Western backers provide him with sufficient arms and money, his position is probably secure.

A main thesis of this book is that the most important sector of the army is under ‘greater insulation from politics’ than the technical sections; but there is no reason to call the royalist supporters less ‘political’ than the opponents of Husayn. This weakness is a result of Professor Vatikiotis’ implicit tolerance of the Hashemite régime, but in spite of the fact that he omits the essential imperialist dimension, there is much to be learnt from his study.

Reza Shirazi