What were the principal battles of the 1967 Six-Day War that are engraved in our collective memories? The emotional capture of the Old City in the “Jerusalem of Gold” and the exclamation: “the Kotel is in our hands” are certainly on the top of the list, together with the overwhelming victory of Israel’s air force eradicating enemy air fleets. There are also the classic tank battles in the Sinai, as well as the valiant scaling and capture of the Golan Heights.
However, one front is forgotten or ignored – the Jordanian front – even by those insisting on Israel’s retention of the strategically vital Jordan River Valley. They discuss, in theory, the Valley serving as Israel’s most important defense line against potential attacks from the east. In 1967, Israeli defenses were not situated in or above the valley, and indeed the invasion came.
The Jordan Valley showed its crucial importance in 1967, when on May 30, Jordan’s King Hussein signed a defense pact with Egypt’s President Gamal Abdul Nasser and placed his army under the command of an Egyptian general. The Jordanian army moved U.S.-supplied M-47 and M-48 Patton tanks, long-range “Long-Tom” artillery, and mechanized infantry (M-113 APCs) into the West Bank to face Israel, and the Iraqi army sent armored divisions toward the Jordan-Israel border.
According to Yitzhak Rabin’s memoirs, Israel had dropped its objections to the U.S. provision of offensive weapons to Jordan after King Hussein pledged that the U.S.-supplied tanks to Jordan would not cross the Jordan River to threaten Israel.
When the war broke out, Jordanian artillery and tanks blasted the Jewish side of Jerusalem and the Ramat David military airbase in Israel’s north. Jordanian Hunter aircraft bombed Kfar Sirkin, Netanya, and Kfar Saba.
On the evening of June 5, 1967, Jordan dispatched its crack 40th Armored Brigade with 90 M-48 tanks from the Jericho area north along the east bank of the Jordan Valley to the Damya (Adam) Bridge. After traveling all night, the Jordanian force crossed into the West Bank toward Nablus (Shechem). A major tank battle ensued in the Dothan Valley.2 The IDF lost 33 soldiers; its tank brigades were equipped with inferior Sherman tanks. The Jordanian forces fought well, “giving as well as they got,” but they ran out of fuel and ammunition, and Israeli tankers’ skills and the Israeli air force won the day. By the next evening, eight straggling Jordanian tanks made their way back across the river.3 Six Jordanian officers and 73 soldiers died; more than 320 soldiers were wounded.
The Other Battle for Jerusalem
Another relatively unknown battle took place on June 6, 1967, outside of Jerusalem, pitting Jordanian forces against the IDF’s Duchifat Special Forces, who were sent to block Jordanian reinforcements coming up toward Jerusalem from the Jordan Valley. The Israeli unit encountered Jordanian infantry and some 30 Jordanian Patton tanks at the strategic high point of Tel el-Ful (“Hill of Beans”), where King Hussein was building a palace to overlook Jerusalem.4 The elite Jordanian armored unit was commanded by King Hussein’s cousin, Brig. Sharif Zayd bin Shaker, a graduate of the U.S. Army Staff College.5 Israeli ground and air forces destroyed many of the Patton tanks that were advancing from the Jordan Valley, and the Jordanian forces withdrew.6
For several years after the 1967 war, Israeli forces guarded the Jordan Valley from the western side to defend against PLO terrorist raids coming from Jordan or a “Jordanian grab” of territory to hold and force negotiations.
* * *
2 The Dothan Valley is the site mentioned in the Bible where Joseph met up with his brothers who ambushed him. It was also the location where Haj Amin al-Hussein, Hitler’s Palestinian ally, planned in 1942 to construct crematoria for the Jews of the Middle East. German General Rommel’s tank forces were approaching Egypt, and some believed he would eventually capture Palestine. http://www.thetower.org/article/how-the-mufti-of-jerusalem-created-the-permanent-problem-of-palestinian-violence/
4 In the Bible, the hill was known as “Gibeah/Givah,” site of the infamous tale of the murder of the “concubine” in the Book of Judges that led to civil war versus the Tribe of Benjamin. Later it was known as Givat Shaul, King Saul’s Hill.
5 Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War, Oxford University Press, 2002.
6 In World War I, a British army squad on the same Tel el-Ful lookout post intercepted a Turkish army counter-attack against Jerusalem and killed the attackers in hand-to-hand combat after Gen. Allenby captured Jerusalem in December 1917.