FIELD MARSHAL HABIS AL-MAJALI, who
has died in Amman aged 91, was the
Kingdom of Jordan's greatest military
commander, and led an Arab Legion battalion
which inflicted a rare defeat on Israeli forces in
the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.
Earlier this year, a Jordanian historian
revealed that in the course of this battle, which
took place at Latrun in what is now Israel in
May 1948, Majali's fourth Jordanian army
battalion captured six Israeli soldiers, including
the current Israeli prime minister, the then
20-year-old Ariel Sharon.
Soon after Israel signed a peace treaty with
Jordan in 1994, Sharon sought to get in touch
with his former captor, but was rebuffed by the
retired field marshal, who determinedly
refused to discuss the episode publicly.
Habis al-Majali was born in Karak in 1910 to a
notable family - a distant cousin, Hazza' al-
Majali, was prime minister - and joined
Jordan's Army in 1932.
After the 1948 war, Majali was appointed
commander of the royal guard, the branch of
the Jordanian army charged with protecting
the king, then Abdallah I. When Abdallah was
assassinated as he emerged from Friday
prayers in the al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City
of Jerusalem (then under Jordanian rule),
Majali and a Muslim cleric wrapped his body
in a carpet and transported it to hospital.
Majali served as one of the panel of military
judges in the trial of those accused of plotting
Abdallah's assassination. In 1951, during the
trial, Majali was among those planning to
prevent Abdallah's son, the mentally infirm
Talal ibn Abdallah, from becoming king.
The coup plot was discovered before it could
be carried out. By this time the youthful
Hussein, Talal's son, was king (Talal having
been peacefully deposed), and Majali was
given the comparatively mild punishment of
being ordered to serve as police chief in the
remote southern town of Ma'an. None of the
other plotters was even arrested, and Majali's
role in the affair otherwise did little harm to his
career: he later became assistant director of
the Public Security Department.
In 1956 King Hussein tightened his grip on
power by dismissing the British commander of
the Arab Legion, John Glubb, and appointed
Majali assistant chief of staff of the Jordan
armed forces. The next year Majali became
chief of staff after an unsuccessful army
rebellion. Majali took full command of the
Jordanian army, which was by now a pillar of
the regime. In 1958, he was raised to
lieutenant general, Glubb's old rank.
After the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel
inflicted a devastating defeat on the armies of
neighbouring Arab states, Majali was
appointed defence minister. He was critical of
the conduct of the war, in which Jordan yielded
command of its forces to Egyptian officers
who knew little of Jordan's landscape and the
relative strengths of the Israeli and Jordanian
In 1970, after King Hussein declared martial
law and set up a military cabinet, Majali
returned as chief of staff. Under Majali, Jordan
crushed the Palestinian uprising in what
became known as the Black September war.
Majali was later appointed to the upper house
of the Jordanian parliament.
Majali's wife Bazaa' died in 1971; he is
survived by their seven children.