Israel's hard-line prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has ordered his defence forces to prepare to drive "hundreds of thousands" of Palestinians on the West Bank over the border into Jordan..
Jordanian intelligence chiefs say the operation will commence on the day the forthcoming United States conflict starts against Iraq.. Sharon believes that will give him "a just excuse" to remove the Palestinians - as they would then pose what he has called "a totally unacceptable threat to the safety of Israel"..
Details of his plan have been leaked by Jordanian intelligence to Western intelligence services, including MI6.. The revelation will almost certainly deepen the split within the Cabinet of Tony Blair about Britain's continued support for military action against Saddam Hussein.. King Abdullah II of Jordan revealed his own fear about Israeli intentions on his recent visit to London.
He told Tony Blair and President Bush that any military action to remove Saddam would open a "Pandora's Box that would turn the entire Middle East into a cauldron", a senior Jordanian intelligence officer said.. "Driving out Arafat and his Palestinians would lead to an uprising in the Middle East against everything Western", he added.. Of immediate concern to Abdullah is that his own tiny kingdom - "a mere pimple on the rump of Arab nationalism" was how one Western intelligence report describes Jordan - could be swept away.. Its Arab neighbours have not forgotten that in 1991, King Abdullah's late father, King Hussein, lent his support to Saddam..
But Abdullah has been pressurised by Washington to allow some 4,000 American troops to mass in the southern desert of Jordan. They are now preparing for the assault on Iraq..
With them are some 200 British Special Forces - who are expected to pathfind the route to Baghdad when the conflict starts.. Abdullah knows that in the event of conflict, Saddam could block the routes into Baghdad by deporting a million Iraqi "refugees" into Jordan.. He could also cut off Iraq's imports of cheap oil to Jordan.. Jordan, already finding it has insufficient water for its 5 million population, would then find itself paralysed..
With the prospect of an influx from the West Bank of Palestinians and the pro-Iraqi sentiments of many Jordanians, who are bitterly opposed to King Abdullah's acceding to American pressure, the 40-year-old monarch could find himself toppled - or even assassinated..
An indication of how close that could come is that Bush has now provided the king with a bodyguard of US Special Forces. They have orders to fly the monarch and his family to the United States - if his bodyguard decides their lives are in danger..
Footnote: Sharon's new plan to drive out the Palestinians comes in the wake of his fury that the Sunday Express had obtained details of his earlier plan to snatch Yasser Arafat and dump him in Lebanon.. The paper's world-exclusive story last weekend was the main news on Israel's Channel- 2 television and in the country's newspapers. Media across the Middle East and Europe also carried detailed confirmation of the story.. Sources close to Sharon said he was "furious about the leak and had ordered a top level enquiry into how details had been passed to the Sunday Express"..