The year 2021 marks 70 years of assassination of King Abdullah I of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He was assassinated on the Temple Mount, while visiting Jerusalem to meet Israeli officials amid his efforts to reach a settlement with Israel. Abdullah was assassinated at the age of 69 as he was exiting al-Aqsa Mosque after Friday prayers with his grandson Hussein.
The assassin, Mustafa Shukri Ashshu, was associated with Mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husseini, who sparked riots against Jews in Mandatory Palestine and was close with Adolf Hitler during World War II. Those associated with the Mufti were often termed “bitter enemies” of Abdullah, as the Mufti supported the establishment of a Palestinian state, which Abdullah seemed to have thwarted by annexing the West Bank, according to a Guardian article from the day after the assassination.
A few days before the assassination, Riad al Sohl, the first prime minister of Lebanon, was also assassinated in Jordan. Ali Razmara, Prime Minister of Iran, and Abdul Hamid Zanganeh, former Education Minister of Iran, were also assassinated in the months before Abdullah’s assassination. The assassinations were seen as a sign of increasing instability in the region.
Abullah was succeeded by his son Talal, who was forced to abdicate about a year later due to mental illness. Talal was succeeded by Hussein, who ruled until 1999, when he was succeeded by the current king of Jordan, Abdullah II.
King Abdullah I was known for his efforts to reach at least some form of peace with Israel, although he was assassinated 43 years before a peace treaty between the two nations was finally signed.
Abdullah met with Reuven Shiloah, the first Mossad director, and Golda Meir in a number of discussions from 1949 to 1950. The king made extensive efforts to get other Jordanian officials to support reaching a settlement with Israel, but faced intense opposition from both officials and the Jordanian and Palestinian public.
Abdullah had been set to meet with Shiloah and diplomat Moshe Sasson in Jerusalem the day after he was assassinated, according to Avi Shalim, an Israeli-British historian.
In Lion of Jordan, Shalim’s biography of Abdullah’s grandson, Hussein, Abdullah is quoted as having told Sasson “I want to make peace with Israel not because I have become a Zionist or care for Israel’s welfare but because it is in the interest of my people. I am convinced that if we do not make peace with you, there will be another war, and another war, and another war, and another war, and we shall lose all these wars. Hence it is the supreme interest of the Arab nation to make peace with you”
Elias Sasson, Moshe’s father, wrote shortly after Abdullah’s assassination: “King Abdullah was the only Arab statesman who showed an understanding for our national renewal, a sincere desire to come to a settlement with us, and a realistic attitude to most of our demands and arguments… We as well as some of the Arabs and foreigners are going to feel for a long time to come his absence, and to regret more than a little his removal from our midst,” according to Shalim’s biography.
By the time of his assassination, Israeli officials had largely lost hope that Abdullah’s efforts would ever lead to an actual peace due to continuing opposition by Arab and Jordanian officials.
At the time of his assassination, a newsreel by the British Pathé News described Abdullah as “the one man who might have brought peace to the Middle East.”
Winston Churchill expressed deep regret after hearing of Abdullah’s assassination, saying “I deeply regret the murder of this wise and faithful Arab ruler, who never deserted the cause of Britain and held out the hand of reconciliation to Israel,” according to The Guardian.