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The Secret Shamir-Hussein Meeting on Jordan’s Neutrality during the 1991 Gulf War

Or Rabinowitz

The first documented archival evidence related to a secret meeting held between King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir during the Gulf War.

On the weekend of 4-5 January 1991, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and King Hussein of Jordan held a secret meeting at the King’s private residence in Ascot, near London, to discuss the coming war in the Gulf. The secret meeting occurred days before the war broke out when the US-led coalition forces attacked Iraq on 17 January 1991; it was first disclosed in the Israeli press in 1995.[1] Later accounts, such as King Hussein’s interview with historian Avi Shlaim from 2007[2] and the autobiography of Israeli head of Mossad, Ephraim Halevi, from 2006, shed further light on the issues discussed. [3]  However, until now, all existing accounts of this secret meeting were based on the personal recollections of its participants and not on archival documents.[4]

According to the accounts mentioned above, King Hussein and Prime Minister Shamir had reached a tacit strategic understanding on Jordan’s neutrality during the war. Although the King categorically refused Shamir’s request to allow Israel to fly through Jordan to retaliate against an Iraqi attack, he guaranteed that his forces were deployed only for defensive purposes; he further guaranteed he would not allow the Iraqi military to deploy forces against Israel in or through Jordan, thus preventing the possibility of an eastern front against Israel. 

The first available archival document relating to this meeting is a newly declassified document from the Presidential Library of President George H.W. Bush in College Station, Texas. In this document, from 21 January 1991, the President’s special envoy to Jordan, Richard Armitage, updates the White House on a private talk he had just had with the King, where the King briefed him of this secret meeting. 

According to Armitage’s account, the King told him that he had met Shamir “recently” in Europe, “where he urged the Israeli Prime Minister to “do nothing” in terms of retaliation for the recent Scud attacks. Armitage further reported the King had “told Shamir that Jordan had taken the step of deploying ground forces to the Eastern part of the country to counter any Iraqi incursion.” As with Shamir, the King had “made it clear” to Armitage that “any Israeli attempt to retaliate through Jordanian airspace would meet with Jordanian resistance.” The document underlines King Hussein’s commitment to remaining neutral throughout the war and that the Jordanian deployment in the East of the Kingdom was meant to prevent Iraqi invasion. 

Click here to read Richard Armitage’s January 21, 1991, cable to Robert Gates on his meeting with King Hussein


[1] Amnon Barzilai, "The faithful Sabbath [Hebrew]," Ha'aretz (Tel-Aviv), 13 January 1995.

[2]Avi Shlaim, Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace (London: Allen Lane, 2007), 498-501.

[3]Efraim Halevy, Man in the Shadows: Inside the Middle East Crisis with the Man who Led the Mossad (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006), 34-36.

[4] See also: Nigel John Ashton, King Hussein of Jordan: A Political Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 276-77.

About the Author

Or Rabinowitz

Or Rabinowitz

Senior Lecturer, Department of International Relations at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
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History and Public Policy Program

The History and Public Policy Program makes public the primary source record of 20th and 21st century international history from repositories around the world, facilitates scholarship based on those records, and uses these materials to provide context for classroom, public, and policy debates on global affairs.  Read more