21 March

The Battle of Karameh was a 15-hour military engagement between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and combined forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) in the Jordanian town of Karameh on this day in 1968, during the War of Attrition. It was planned by Israel as two concurrent raids on PLO camps, one in Karameh and one in the distant village of Safi—codenamed Operation Inferno and Operation Asuta, respectively—but the former turned into a full-scale battle.

After the Six-Day War in 1967, the PLO and Fatah started to step up their guerilla attacks against Israel from Jordanian soil taking the border town of Karameh as their headquarters. The battle started with an Israeli invasion that was intending to destroy Palestinian groups’ camps at Karameh and capture Yasser Arafat in reprisal for the attacks by the PLO. However, plans for the two operations were prepared in 1967, a year earlier. It is also believed that Israel wanted to punish Jordan for its support to the PLO. When Jordan saw the size of the raiding forces entering the battle it lead to the assumption that Israel had another goal of capturing Balqa Governorate to create a similar situation to the Golan Heights. Israel assumed that the Jordanian Army would ignore the invasion, but the latter fought alongside the Palestinians and opened heavy fire that inflicted losses upon the Israeli forces. This engagement marked the first known deployment of suicide bombers by Palestinian forces. The Israelis were repelled at the end of a day’s battle, having destroyed most of the Karameh camp and taken around 141 PLO prisoners. The battle resulted in the issuance of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 248, which condemned Israel for violating the cease-fire line.

Both sides declared victory. On a tactical level, the battle went in Israel’s favour and the destruction of the Karameh camp was achieved. However, the relatively high casualties were a considerable surprise for the Israel Defence Forces and was stunning to the Israelis. On a rare occasion, Israel in this battle was unable to retrieve three dead soldiers which were left behind in Karameh along with several damaged Israeli vehicles and tanks, later paraded in Amman by the Jordanians. Although the Palestinians were not victorious on their own, King Hussein let the Palestinians take credit. The Palestinians used this to establish their national claims. King Hussein after the battle proclaimed, “I think we may reach a position where we are all fedayeen.” However, afterwards the PLO’s strength began to grow, and Palestinians spoke openly of taking over Jordan. This situation eventually led to Black September in Jordan, in 1970.