At the time of the Arab-Israeli War of 1947-1948, the Arab Legion was the most effective and best organized Arab fighting force. Established by Great Britain in 1920-1921 when the Emirate of Transjordan was formed, the Legion was funded, trained, and commanded by British officers. Until 1939, it was led by Lt. Col. F. G. Peake; he was followed by Sir John Bagot Glubb (Pasha) (1897-1986).
When Jordan became an independent country in 1946, the Legion became a regular army but continued to receive British subsidies, supplies, and advice. During the conflict in 1948, under Glubb Pasha, it was instrumental in King Abdullah I’s military successes in areas that the Partition Plan had allotted to the Arab Palestinian state as well as in East Jerusalem. Other Arab countries and Palestinians blamed the Legion for its failure to prevent the formation of the Jewish state and for the limited and restricted Arab advances on the eastern front.
Bowing to nationalist and anticolonialist elements in the region, on 1 March 1956 King Hussein of Jordan dismissed Glubb Pasha. Thus the leadership fell into the hands of Jordanian commanders and, in 1969, the Legion was renamed the Jordanian Armed Forces.
The Arab Legion (al-Jaysh al-Arabi), also known as the Transjordan Frontier Force, was the regular army of Transjordan and then Jordan. In 1921, the Hashemite Emir Abdullah I of Transjordan formed the Transjordan Frontier Force as a police force to keep order among the tribes of Transjordan and to guard the important Jerusalem-Amman road. The name was changed to the Arab Legion in 1923.
In 1939, John Bagot Glubb, better known as Glubb Pasha, became the legion’s commander and transformed it into a well-trained Arab army. He served in this position until 1956. During World War II, the Arab Legion took part in the British war effort against proAxis forces in the Middle East theater. By then, the force had grown to 1,600 men. The legion was also the most successful of the Arab armies during the 1948-1949 Israeli War of Independence. There was considerable embarrassment from the British government that British officers were employed in the legion during the conflict, and one British member of Parliament called for Glubb Pasha to be imprisoned for serving in a foreign army without the king’s permission.
Until 1948, Transjordan had never faced an external threat and thus had no need for a system that would provide it with military intelligence. The Arab Legion received intelligence from the British army, which was responsible for Jordan’s security in case of war. The British decision to evacuate Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel forced the Arab Legion to establish a combat intelligence unit. This intelligence unit was built according to the British model and received assistance from the British. The Arab Legion’s intelligence section was a subsection of the Department of Operations, and the intelligence unit was comprised of subunits attached to each of the legion’s battalions for gathering information and conducting research. The intelligence subunits of each division conducted specific investigations on officers, units, targets, and forces of the Israeli Army. If the collected intelligence received was considered of great importance, it was passed upward to the commander in chief in Amman and, in some cases, discussed at the political level of the state.
There was a strong tie between British intelligence and the budding Jordanian intelligence. The British shared information with the Jordanians about the newly established state of Israel and preparations for the war. However, the intelligence that the British passed on to the Jordanians was generally limited to information that could serve British interests in the region. When the Arab Legion was deployed in their major base of Shunna prior to the invasion of Israel, the officers received booklets prepared by Jordanian intelligence containing basic information about the target country and the expected battlefield.
Jordanian military intelligence gathered information by several methods, such as OSCINT (open sources) from the Israeli press and radio broadcasts, as well as Israel Defense Forces (IDF) communications. Listening to IDF communications proved to be problematic, however, due to the lack of Hebrew-speaking agents. Attempts by Jordanian intelligence to recruit Hebrew-speaking agents were not successful, and their failure to do so caused the Arab Legion serious difficulties throughout the 1948-1949 War of Independence. The IDF made it even more difficult by adopting the method of flooding the transmissions.
The Arab Legion’s intelligence also conducted observations and reconnaissance, the importance of which was evident in the first battle at Latrun on 25 May 1948. When the Arab observation post reported the movements of the IDF prior to the attack, the legion blockaded the Jerusalem highway. The efficiency of the legion’s intelligence and the results of their cooperation with the British were also demonstrated by the successful attack they conducted on Gush Etzion, during which they avoided the minefields and bypassed the fortifications prepared by the IDF. The attack was preplanned by the British, who gathered the information and passed it over to the Jordanians. On 28 May 1948, they conquered the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, expelled the Jews who lived there, and took part in the destruction of the synagogues therein. The legion also secured the West Bank for Transjordan.
The Arab Legion’s counterintelligence was aimed at thwarting Israeli efforts to obtain information about Jordan and the Arab Legion through document supervision, communication security, facility guarding, and the use of codes and ciphering. Soldiers were under strict orders not to speak with civilians in order to prevent information from leaking out. However, protecting the Hashemite regime of Jordan from inner opposing factors was considered a higher priority, and most of the effort of this section of the intelligence mechanism was directed to that cause. Although the Arab Legion received some information from collaborators throughout the 1948-1949 War of Independence, the Arab Legion did not have spies in Israel. Perhaps this was due to the fact that it did not need spies there, as it received information on a regular basis from the British army units that had remained in the newly established state of Israel.