chapter  11
Treachery
Pages 13

The strength of the military section of the Arab Legion was trebled from about seven thousand men to twenty-five thousand during the period of the fighting in Palestine and the performances of the Jordanian soldiers during that test gave them the well-deserved reputation of being amongst the best fighting material produced by the Arab race. The jealousy of some of the other Arab nations did not detract from the fame of the legionaries but rather tended to enhance it.The value of the Arab Legion was, no doubt, appre­ciated by His Majesty’s Government who were thinking in terms of building up a multilateral defence alliance in the Middle East which was to be called, later, the Baghdad Pact. It was clear that a friendly Jordan, with a strong army, could play a valuable role in such a group­ing of countries. Nothing was said to the Arabs about such an alliance at that time, but a new readiness to pro­vide more funds for a permanent expansion of the ArabLegion became apparent in London.There was no shortage of candidates for enlistment to fill the enhanced cadre of the Legion but none of us rea­lised how much the expansion would alter the nature of the force. The rapid increase in intake meant that the selection boards would be less exacting in the standards

which they applied and that other factors would result in the enlistments including a greater proportion of men from the settled population. Prior to 1948, the Legion possessed no technical services and these were improvised during the hostilities with personnel who had studied in town schools and were, in consequence, politically minded. The new recruits also brought in an increasing number of Palestinians who felt no particular loyalty to Jordan or to the King. Lastly, the number of British officers was greatly increased, mainly by the appointment of personnel on secondment from the British armed services.Both Glubb and I were uneasy about this last develop­ment but the War Office replied to our tactful suggestions that the overemphasis of the British element might lead to trouble in the future, by saying that it was their duty to ensure that the army for which they paid was efficiently trained and commanded and that, in their view, those two things could only be guaranteed by having British officers in the key posts. When I left Jordan at the end of 1951, on transfer to Libya, there were over sixty British officers attached to the Arab Legion, whereas there were only a handful of them when the corps made its name.When the post war reorganisation had been completed, the bedouin units were as trustworthy as ever but there was less loyalty to the monarchy than before amongst the men of the formations which were recruited from the settled population. There were even reports current about a secret association of republican Free Officers whose members were plotting against the King and his British allies. These reports were not, alas, taken as seriously as they should have been by those in authority. It was a pity that Glubb had lost, by then, the intimate paternal touch with his men which had been of so great a value when the Legion had been a relatively small body. In other Arab countries there was a rising volume of jibes to the effect that it was odd to call a force which was commanded by British officers, a national Arab army. This was a damaging criticism which eventually put pres­

sure on King Hussein to dismiss Glubb and his British colleagues in 1956. One realises, looking back, that the very success of the Legion undermined its dependability.One of the younger group of Arab officers who had come to the fore in the years 1948-49, was a certain Abdullah el Tel from Irbid, a town on the east bank. He had started his career as a customs officer and as such, he had managed to catch the eye of the King who had arranged for him to be given a commission in the Arab Legion. One of King Abdullah’s faults had been favouritism which, as often as not, had been bestowed on unworthy persons. This was a case in point, and, until the final act of betrayal, preference was showered on Abdullah el Tel by his sovereign. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel when he was far from being a senior Major; he was frequently given special missions by the King in contacts with both the Arab and Jewish leaders in Palestine and, after the armistice agreement was con­cluded, he was appointed to one of the most senior posts in the civil administration that of Governor of Jerusalem.Whilst holding that appointment, he called on Glubb and enquired as to whether he could be promoted to Brigadier if he left the governorship and resumed his duties with the Arab Legion. Glubb pointed out, in reply, that Tel had risen very rapidly from being a company com­mander eighteen months earlier, and, for that reason, it would not be possible to give him further advancement for the present. The two men appeared to part on amicable terms, but outward appearances proved to be deceptive.A few months later, Abdullah el Tel resigned from the government service and went into sulky retirement in his native town in the north. Why he did so was never known with certainty but my guess is that the Egyptian Govern­ment must already have been tempting him to break his allegiance. He next moved to Cairo where the Ministry for Foreign Affairs gave him a furnished villa and an attaché in permanent attendance. The purpose of the move became evident when Tel embarked on a virulently hostile

campaign over the Egyptian Broadcasting Service network and in the local press, aimed against the King, Glubb and myself.As regards the King, Tel took the line that, as an Arab patriot, his conscience would no longer permit him to be party to the King’s treacherous conduct towards the Arab nation and that he regretted having acted the part of intermediary with the Jews which the monarch had compelled him to play. These revelations about the King’s contacts did not cause much surprise because the fact that they occurred was already widely known. One com­ment, which was frequently heard, was that it had takena remarkably long time for Tel to discover that his role as messenger had been unpatriotic and that his dissent would have been more convincing had he resigned at the time. The Jordanians were perfectly well aware of Tel’s indebtedness to the King’s favour and they recognised and despised the base ingratitude of his betrayal.The smears on Glubb and the other British officers of the Legion found a readier audience because there was already a tendency to treat them as scapegoats for the failure of the Arab armies on the field of battle. Tel made use of the call of the Free Officers for an Arab command of the national army as an effective weapon of propaganda against his former chief.The principal theme of the attacks on myself was that as a foreign diplomatic envoy, I had no business to meddle to the extent which I did in the affairs of an independent kingdom. That line was out of date. It was true that I had interfered in the days when I had been the British Resident under the Colonial Office, and I had had every right to do so, but, since independence had come to the country, I had only proffered advice when it had been sought and the Jordanians had been perfectly free to disre­gard my views had they desired to do so. On the personal side, I had not known Abdullah el Tel well but I had never done him any harm. On the other hand, he had been on friendly terms with my eldest son when the latter

had been an officer in the Legion during the Second World War. My son could never understand Tel’s volte face but my explanation was simple. It was a case of too much pride; Tel had got on too rapidly to be able to keep his balance. He may have seen himself as a future Prime Minister.The flood of abuse and accusations put out against the Jordanians by the Egyptian news media, was defeating its own object by its volume and repetitive content, so that Tel’s contributions after his defection did not make any discernible impact as far as listeners in Jordan were concerned. Those who had been against the King remained hostile and those who had been his friends and supporters continued to be such. Something more than propaganda was brewing, however. The personal influence of the King amongst the east bankers was too deeply rooted to be destroyed by words and his enemies concluded that the only means of achieving their objective of reducing the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to a nonentity, or of des­troying it, was to remove the man whose personality heldthe fabric of the state together. Thereafter, reports o f plots against the King’s life increased to an alarming degree and to my mind the atmosphere seemed to reek of murder and violence.When I said goodbye to the King on the eve of my departure on vacation leave, I once again voiced my per­sonal anxiety about his safety. He was in the habit ofattending midday prayers on Fridays at el Aqsa mosque in the Haram es Sherif where an average attendance of several thousand worshippers made the effective screening of the congregation by the police an impossibility. I begged him, therefore, to pray at the mosque at Amman instead where he would be amidst his own people, but I came up against his fatalism once again. He smiled and repeated a poetic jingle in Arabic which meant, ‘Until my day comes nobody can harm m e: when my day comes nobody can guard me’. I could think of no answer to this piece of philosophy and I left him to find his fate.