Battle of Karameh

Battle of Karameh
Part of the War of Attrition
Karama aftermath 1.jpg
King Hussein after checking an abandoned Israeli tank
Date21 March 1968

Both sides claim victory[1]

Israel Israel (IDF)

Jordan Jordan (JAF)
Palestine Liberation Organization PLO

Commanders and leaders
Israel Levi Eshkol
Israel Uzi Narkis
Israel Moshe Dayan
Jordan King Hussein
Jordan Amer Khammash Jordan Mashour Haditha Jordan Asad Ghanma
Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat
Palestine Liberation Organization Abu Iyad
Palestine Liberation Organization Abu Jihad
Palestine Liberation Organization Abu Ali Iyad

Israel About 15,000[4]
47 tanks[5]

(1 armored brigade
1 infantry brigade
1 paratroop battalion
1 engineering battalion
5 artillery battalions)

Jordan 2nd armored division[6]
(10 artillery batteries
4 brigades
1 Patton tanks battalion[5])

Palestine Liberation Organization 900[7]–1000[8] guerrillas
Casualties and losses


28[9]– 33 dead[10]
69[9] – 161 wounded[10]
27 tanks hit, 4 left behind[10]
2 APCs[5]
2 vehicles[5]
1 aircraft[10]

Jordan:40[11]- 84 dead[10]
108[12]- 250 wounded[10]
4 captured[13]
28 tanks hit, 2 captured[14]

156 dead[10]
~100 wounded
141 captured[10]
175 buildings destroyed[10]

The Battle of Karameh (Arabic: معركة الكرامة‎) 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 21 March 1968, during the War of Attrition. It was planned by Israel as one of two concurrent raids on PLO camps, one in Karameh and one in the distant village of Safi—codenamed Operation Inferno (Hebrew: מבצע תופת‎) and Operation Asuta (מבצע אסותא), respectively—but the former turned into a full-scale battle.[15]

After Jordan lost control of the West Bank to Israel in 1967, Palestinian fighters known as fedayeen moved their bases to Jordan and stepped up their attacks on Israel and Israeli-occupied territories, taking the border town of Karameh as their headquarters. The IDF claimed that the purpose was to destroy the fedayeen camps at Karameh, and to capture Yasser Arafat, the leader of the PLO as reprisal. Israel also wanted to punish Jordan for its perceived support to the fedayeen.[16] A large Israeli force launched an attack on the town on the dawn of 21 March, supported by fighter jets. Israel assumed the Jordanian Army would choose to not get involved in the battle, but the latter deployed heavy artillery fire, while the Palestinian irregulars engaged in guerrilla warfare. The Israelis withdrew, or were repulsed, after a day-long battle, having destroyed most of the Karameh camp and taken around 140 PLO members prisoner.[3] The engagement marked the first known deployment of suicide bombers by Palestinian fighters.[17] The battle resulted in the issuance of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 248, which unanimously condemned Israel for violating the cease-fire line and its disproportionate use of force.[18]

Both sides declared victory. On a tactical level, the battle went in Israel's favor,[13] as the aim of destroying the Karameh camp was achieved.[9] On the other hand, Arafat was not captured, and the relatively high casualties sustained came as a considerable surprise for the Israelis. They failed to retrieve three dead soldiers that were left behind in Karameh along with several damaged Israeli vehicles and tanks—later paraded in Amman by the Jordanian Army.[4]

The battle gained wide acclaim and recognition in the Arab world, and the following period witnessed an upsurge of support from Arab countries to the fedayeen in Jordan. The Palestinians had limited success in inflicting Israeli casualties, but King Hussein allowed them to take credit.[19] After the battle, Hussein proclaimed, "I think we may reach a position where we are all fedayeen".[20] However, as the PLO's strength began to grow in the aftermath, the fedayeen began to speak openly of overthrowing the Hashemite monarchy, and the ensuing tensions with the Jordanian authorities eventually precipitated in their expulsion to Lebanon during the events of Black September in 1970.[21]


Palestinian groups used to initiate few attacks on Israeli targets from both the West Bank and Jordan before the Six-Day War, some of which caused Israel to retaliate which became known as the Reprisal operations.[22] Following the seizure of the West Bank from Jordan in the June 1967 Six-Day War, Israel destroyed the existing Palestinian group Fatah networks there. In early 1968, however, Fatah guerrillas began raiding Israel from bases on the Jordanian side of the river. Most of these attacks were blocked by the Israel Defense Forces. At times, Jordanian Army infantry and artillery units gave the Fatah squads covering fire, leading to frequent direct skirmishes between the IDF and the Jordanian Army.[4] On 14–15 February, Jordanian mortars hit several Israeli settlements in the Beit Shean Valley and Jordan Valley. Israeli artillery and air forces retaliated against Jordanian bases and artillery batteries, as well as the American-financed East Ghor Canal (now known as the King Abdullah Canal). As a result, thousands of Jordanian farmers fled eastwards, and fedayeen (agents willing to sacrifice themselves for the Palestinian cause) moved into the valley. An American-sponsored ceasefire was arranged, and King Hussein declared he would prevent these groups from using Jordan as a base for attack.[23]

In February, King Hussein sent twenty carloads of troops and police to order a Fatah unit to leave the town of Karameh. When it arrived, the column found itself surrounded by men wielding machine guns; their commander said "You have three minutes to decide whether you leave or die". They withdrew.[24] By March, several hundred civilians lived in the camp, along with about 900 guerrillas, mostly from Fatah, and PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who had his headquarters there.[7]

In Israel, Chief of the Military Intelligence Directorate Aharon Yariv stated that a raid would damage Fatah's prestige. On the other hand, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban and his chief of bureau Gideon Rafael — mindful of an adverse American reaction due to the good relationship between Jordan and the US — worried a raid could result in innocent civilian deaths and be a political disservice to Israel. Chief of Staff Haim Bar-Lev promised a "clean action". Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan asked for a "principal approval" for a raid, but this was denied by the cabinet. On 13 December, Operation Karameh was scheduled for the next night, it was placed in the hands of both Brigade 35 of the Paratroop Corps and the Sayeret Matkal special-operations force. The operation was called off, rescheduled for 12 March and then called off again.[5] Dayan warned the other ministers that a bus might strike a mine.[25] On 18 March, an Israeli school bus was blown up by a mine near Be'er Ora in the Arava, killing two adults and wounding ten children.[7] This was the 38th Fatah operation in little more than three months.[21] That night, the cabinet approved the attack.[26] The U.S. tried to prevent it by forwarding Israel a message from King Hussein. Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol called in the cabinet for further counseling; only the National Religious Party leader Haim-Moshe Shapira vocally opposed the attack, while Education Minister Zalman Aran opposed it too but remained silent.[25] There was an intelligence informant who was a former Fatah member, code-named "Grotius" who was said to be familiar with the base in Karameh and its surroundings. Grotius is said to have arrived in Jordan as a member of the 421st Commando Battalion of the Palestine Liberation Army, on the eve of the Six-Day War. After deserting his battalion, he trained in Syria at the Hama camp and later slipped into the West Bank.[5] Israel assumed that the Jordanians would ignore the invasion, however, the Israelis were met with heavy resistance from them.[21]