- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.On 18 March, an Israeli school bus was blown killing two adults and wounding ten children. This was the 38th Fatah operation in little more than three months.
- That night, the cabinet approved the attack. 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. 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. Israel assumed that the Jordanians would ignore the invasion, however, the Israelis were met with heavy resistance from them.
- The operation was called off, rescheduled for 12 March and then called off again.On 18 March, an Israeli school bus was blown killing two adults and wounding ten children. This was the 38th Fatah operation in little more than three months.That night, the cabinet approved the attack.
- Prior to the attack, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) dropped leaflets telling the Jordanian army that Israel had no intention to hurt them, and that they should not intervene.
BATTLE OF KARAMEH
BATTLE OF KARAMEH
- At 5:30 AM on 21 March, the Israeli forces attacked simultaneously on the three bridges. The Israeli spearheads pushed across the Allenby Bridge and advanced.
- At 6:30 AM, Israeli helicopters started landing the bulk of the paratrooper battalion north of Karameh.Met with resistance by Fatah commandos and Jordanian regulars supported by Jordanian artillery, the paratroopers suffered heavy losses.
- When the southern task force began their drive north towards Karameh, they encountered a Jordanian infantry brigade.
BATTLE OF KARAMEH
- The Israeli Air Force launched airstrikes, but was only able to inflict minor damage on the dug-in Jordanians. By 8:00 the Israeli forces had taken control of the town, which turned out to be a bigger PLO base than the Israelis expected.
- Combined with the paratroopers, this Israeli force engaged in heavy fighting against the central brigade of the 1st division and a number of Fatah fighters.
- The paratroopers destroyed most of the camp; many of the Palestinians, including Arafat, fled eastward.
- The Jordanians attacked with some armor, but the Israelis put up resistance, and the battle turned into a stalemate.The Israelis also consolidated their hold on Karameh with airstrikes and artillery, and began demolishing the camp. A total of 175 houses were blown up.
- Israel: Chaim Herzog and Kenneth Pollack estimate 28 dead and 69 wounded; Shabtai Teveth gives 32 killed and 70 wounded out of a force of 1,000 soldiers. Benny Morris writes that Israel lost 33 dead and 161 wounded. 27 Israeli tanks were damaged by Jordanian artillery.
- Jordan: Zeev Maoz and Benny Morris cite a figure of some 84 Jordanian soldiers killed and another 250 wounded. Four were captured. 30 tanks were damaged. Other estimates claim 40 dead and 108 wounded.
- PLO: Herzog: 200 dead, 150 captured; Morris: 156 dead, 141 captured; Pollack: 100 dead, 100 wounded, 120–150 captured.
- Israel accomplished its objective of destroying the Fatah camp, and on a tactical level, the battle did indeed end in Israel’s favor.
- The relatively high casualties were a considerable surprise for the IDF and was stunning to the Israelis.Although the Palestinians were not victorious on their own, King Hussein let the Palestinians take credit.
- However, the battle of Karameh provided Fatah with a propaganda boost.Fatah reported that 5,000 volunteers applied to join within 48 hours of the battle.By late March, there were nearly 20,000 fedayeen in Jordan.