Samu Incident

Samu Incident
Operation Shredder
Part of The retribution operations
Date November 13, 1966
Location Es Samu, West Bank (Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan)
Result Demolition of 40 to 120 houses in the town of Samu; rioting in West Bank against king of Jordan; increased tensions contributing to outbreak of Six-Day War
Israel Israel Jordan Jordan
Commanders and leaders
Israel Yoav Shaham  
Israel Levi Eshkol
Jordan Hussein I bin Talal
Jordan Bahjat al-Muhaisen
Jordan Asad Ghanma
400 troops
40 half-tracks
10 tanks
100 troops
20 convoy vehicles
Casualties and losses
1 killed
10 wounded
1 fighter jet damaged
16 killed
54 wounded
15 vehicles destroyed
1 fighter jet shot down
3 civilians killed
96 civilians wounded

The Samu incident refers to events on November 13, 1966 involving an Israeli military attack on the Jordanian-controlled West Bank village of Samu in response to Fatah raids against Israelis near the West Bank border. It was the largest Israeli military operation since the 1956 Suez Crisis and is considered to have been a contributing factor to the outbreak of the Six-Day War in 1967.[citation needed]



For three years King Hussein of Jordan had been meeting clandestinely with Israeli Foreign Minister, Golda Meir, and Prime Minister's deputy, Abba Eban, concerning peace and mutually secure borders. On the night of November 11 however, an Israeli border patrol vehicle carrying policemen drove over a mine near the Israeli-Jordanian border, killing three and wounding six;[1] the mine was reportedly planted by the PLO subgroup, Fatah.[2] On November 12, King Hussein sent a letter of condolence to Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, via the U.S. embassy in Amman. From there it was sent to U.S. ambassador Barbour at the embassy in Tel-Aviv; instead of forwarding it to the prime minister, he left the letter on his desk - assuming it was not important and there was no rush.[3] According to another version of the story, the letter reached Barbour on the 11th (a Friday), but he delayed passing it on due to the coming Sabbath.[4] Early on the morning of November 13, King Hussein received an unsolicited message from his Israeli contacts stating that Israel had no intention of attacking Jordan.[3] Early the same day also, the Israeli military mobilized 3000-4000 troops, and sent about 600 of these, with 60 half-tracks and 11 tanks, across the border into the Jordanian-controlled West Bank.

Israel's goal

Israel's goal in the operation was to demolish houses in Palestinian villages located south of Hebron as a show of force to preempt future Palestinian violence.[5] Israel hoped that the residents of those villages would appeal to King Hussein to tame Fatah and other Palestinian militant groups.[2] Additionally, Israel aimed to warn Jordan as well as Syria of its military strength and tactics, without actually confronting the Jordanian Armed Forces.

The Israeli rationale for the attack on Samu has often been questioned. For example, Colonel (ret.) Jan Mühren, a Dutch UN observer in the West Bank who patrolled Samu during this period, gave an interview to Dutch current affairs program Nova on the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War where he denied the Israeli charges regarding Samu. He said "Had the people from this village anything to do with the attack on Israel - Well no. Not just from this village but also not from the entire West Bank. ... only western officers operated here and we did patrols. The situation was completely calm." That, despite the attack against the Israeli patrol two days earlier.

In a report by the Arab League, it was assumed that the main goal of this attack was to test the efficiency of what was called the United Arab Command, and see if any other Arab country such as Egypt or Syria would come to the aid of Jordan. It also assumes that this battle was in preparation for the Six-Day War.[6]

Operation Shredder

Israel mobilised a force of around 3,000-4,000 soldiers, backed by tanks and aircraft, in the attack code-named Operation Shredder. The force was divided into a large reserve force, which remained on the Israeli side of the border, and two attack forces, which crossed into the Jordanian-occupied West Bank. Ground troops moved into the village of Rujm al-Madfa located just southwest of Hebron and destroyed its police station. From there, the larger force of eight Centurion tanks followed by 400 paratroopers mounted in 40 open-topped half-tracks and 60 engineers in 10 more half-tracks headed for Samu. Meanwhile, the smaller force of three tanks and 100 paratroopers and engineers in 10 half-tracks headed toward two smaller villages, Khirbet el-Markas and Khirbet Jimba. When the larger force entered Samu, most of the town's residents responded to orders by the IDF to gather in the town square. Sappers from the 35th paratrooper brigades then dynamited numerous buildings within and near the village; reports of the total number of building destroyed range from 40 to 125 (IDF and United Nations estimates, respectively). The UN also reported the destruction of the village medical clinic, a 6-classroom school and a workshop, in addition, one mosque and 28 houses had been damaged.

The 48th Infantry Battalion of the Jordanian Army, commanded by Major Asad Ghanma, encountered the Israeli forces north-west of Samu. Two companies of the Hitteen Infantry Brigade (لواء المشاة حطين) also approached from the north-east; these were composed of roughly 100 men and 20 convoy vehicles, and commanded by Brig. Gen. Bahjat al-Muhaisen (العميد الركن بهجت المحيسن). Apparently, al-Muhaisen was leading his troops to Yattah, another village south of Hebron, but the road there passed though Samu. The Jordanians were subsequently ambushed by Israeli forces.

According to then-Colonel al-Muhaisen, in an interview with the Jordanian Armed Forces' Al Aqsa Magazine, Jordanian intelligence had informed him that the target of the Israeli attack was Samu village. He ordered his troops to move toward Samu from two directions, one through Thaheria Village and the other through Yatta, which he led, in an attempt to reach Samu before the Israelis did. The Israelis reached higher ground first.

Eight Jordanian Hawker Hunter jets scrambled at Mafraq Airbase and attacked Israeli forces to relieve pressure on their own troops, but were met by a force of Israeli jets. In the air battle that followed, a Jordanian plane was shot down and the pilot was killed, and an Israeli plane was damaged and forced to land.[7]

Another platoon of Jordanians armed with two 106 mm recoilless rifles entered Samu, engaging the IDF. In the ensuing battle fifteen Jordanian soldiers were killed, and fifty-four other soldiers were wounded, including Colonel al-Muhaisen. The commander of the Israeli paratroop battalion, Colonel Yoav Shaham, was killed and ten other Israeli soldiers were wounded.[8][9]

Three civilians were also killed and 96 wounded during the battle.


In Jordan, King Hussein was faced with a storm of criticism for failing to protect Samu, emanating from Jordanians, as well as from Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries. Riots spread throughout the West Bank demanding the king be overthrown. Four Palestinians were killed by Jordanian police as a result of the riots. On 20 November, Hussein ordered nation-wide military service.[10]

Egyptian and Syrian radio also verbally attacked Jordan accusing King Hussein of collaborating with the CIA to plot an overthrow of the Ba'ath Party in Syria. Following the Palestinian demonstrations against him, King Hussein accused Nasser of using the presence of the United Nations Emergency Force on Egypt's border with Israel, as an excuse for failing to take action against Israel.[11] As Palestinians rioted in Hebron, Nablus, Jerusalem on the West Bank and Irbid in Jordan, the Palestine Liberation Organization warned all Jordanian ministers to resign by noon on 26 November.[12]

In Israel, angered opposition parties demanded to know why Israel attacked Jordan rather than Syria, which was the guerrilla home base. In a special parliamentary debate, Prime Minister Eshkol listed 14 major acts of sabotage carried out from Jordan in the past year, climaxed by the land-mine explosion that killed three Israeli troops on 12 November. Eshkol said: "It is regrettable that this particular act of aggression came from Jordan." But since it did, he had picked Jordan as his target. "No country where the saboteurs find shelter and through whose territory they pass on their way to Israel can be exempt from responsibility." What Eshkol left unsaid was his certainty that, with the so-called Arab unity being what it was, Jordan would find itself with far less Arab support than Syria, which was much closer to Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser. Jordan's Arab partners did wait until the Israelis had withdrawn before making indignant vows of support.[13]

Two days after the attack, in a memo to President Johnson, his Special Assistant Walt Rostow wrote "I'm not suggesting our usual admonition against retaliation. We'll maintain that posture,... but retaliation is not the point in this case. This 3000-man raid with tanks and planes was out of all proportion to the provocation and was aimed at the wrong target. In hitting Jordan so hard, the Israelis have done a great deal of damage to our interests and to their own: They've wrecked a good system of tacit cooperation between Hussein and the Israelis... They've undercut Hussein. We've spent $500 million to shore him up as a stabilizing factor on Israel's longest border and vis-à-vis Syria and Iraq. Israel's attack increases the pressure on him to counterattack not only from the more radical Arab governments and from the Palestinians in Jordan but also from the Army, which is his main source of support and may now press for a chance to recoup its Sunday losses... They've set back progress toward a long term accommodation with the Arabs... They may have persuaded the Syrians that Israel didn't dare attack Soviet-protected Syria but could attack US-backed Jordan with impunity. It's important that we strengthen the hand of those within the Israeli Government who feel this is not the proper way to handle the problem. Even members of the Israeli military now doubt that retaliation will stop the cross-border raids, though they see no better solution."[14]

On 18 November, the Security Council requested that the existing United Nations Military Observers prepare a report of their findings regarding the incident;[15] it was presented to the Security Council a few days later. In a rare agreement, Russia joined the U.S., France and Great Britain and condemned the Israeli attack. U.S. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg termed the raid "inexcusable" and pushed for a formal U.N. resolution censuring Israel.[13] On 25 November the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 228 unanimously deploring "the loss of life and heavy damage to property resulting from the action of the Government of Israel on 13 November 1966"; censuring "Israel for this large-scale military action in violation of the United Nations Charter and of the General Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan"; and emphasising "to Israel that actions of military reprisal cannot be tolerated and that, if they are repeated, the Security Council will have to consider further and more effective steps as envisaged in the Charter to ensure against the repetition of such acts."[16]

Some months later and just weeks before the Six-Day War, the U.S. ambassador in Amman, Findley Burns, reported in a telegram to the State Department that Hussein had expressed the opinion in a conversation the day before that,

if Israel launched another Samu-scale attack against Jordan he would have no alternative but to retaliate or face an internal revolt. If Jordan retaliates, asked Hussein, would not this give Israel a pretext to occupy and hold Jordanian or Occupied territory? Or, said Hussein, Israel might instead of a hit-and-run type attack simply occupy and hold territory in the first instance. He said he could not exclude these possibilities from his calculations and urged us not to do so even if we felt them considerably less than likely.[17]

David Ben-Gurion later criticized the raid, arguing that it weakened King Hussein's position counter to Israel's interests.[18] Moshe Dayan was also critical. He believed that the Samu Operation should have been directed at the Syrians.[18]

The incident at Es Samu is regarded as a prelude to the Six-Day War.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Israel, Army and defense - A dictionary, Zeev Schiff & Eitan Haber, editors
  2. ^ a b Revolution until victory?, Barry M. Rubin, p. 11, Harvard University Press, 1994
  3. ^ a b Bowen, 2003, p. 26 (citing Amman Cables 1456, 1457, 11 December 1966, National
  4. ^ Michael Oren (2005). "The Revelations of 1967". Israel Studies 10 (2): 1–14. 
  5. ^ Tom Segev. 1967. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007. pp.150-152.
  6. ^ Arab League report
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Bowen, 2003, pp. 23-30.
  9. ^ Oren, 2002, pp. 33-36.
  10. ^ 'King Husain orders nation-wide military service', The Times, Monday, 21 November 1966; pg. 8; Issue 56794; col D.
  11. ^ Brenchley, 1989, p. 147.
  12. ^ 'Unified Arab command criticizes Jordan's actions', The Times Saturday, November 26, 1966; pg. 6; Issue 56799; col D.
  13. ^ a b Middle East: Incident at Samu, Time, Nov. 25, 1966
  14. ^ Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson, Washington, November 15, 1966. Retrieved 8 Jan. 2009.
  15. ^ UN report by the Secretary General concerning incident of 13 Nov 1966 in Jordan. Retrieved 1 Oct 07.
  16. ^ United Nations Security Council Resolution 228, Retrieved 22 October 2005.
  17. ^ Telegram From the Embassy in Jordan to the Department of State, Amman, May 18, 1967, 1505Z. Retrieved 22 October 2005.
  18. ^ a b Shalom, 2006, p. 80.
  19. ^ Ben-Yehûdā & Sandler, 2002, p. 34.


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