There's a silver lining to the war clouds that hang over the Middle East: there is little chance of an Arab-Israeli war any time soon.

With the continuing Iran-Iraq bloodshed, the threat to Persian Gulf shipping and U.S. Navy escorts and the recent Iranian-instigated rioting in Mecca, the lack of an Arab-Israeli war may seem scant grounds for optimism. But while the 7-year-old Persian Gulf war and Iranian subversion of its neighbors can probably be contained before a holocaust erupts, another Arab-Israeli war probably could not.

The reason is simple: Israel has the nuclear bomb and would use it if necessary.

Why is an Arab-Israeli war so unlikely? Because no Arab nation will take on Israel singlehanded -- specifically, without the support of either Egypt or Jordan. And this is unattainable at the moment. Egypt, in addition to its peace treaty with Israel, has enough domestic problems to go looking for another bloody nose from the Israeli armed forces.

Jordan's is a more interesting case. A secret State Department assessment summarizes Jordan's crucial importance:

''U.S. interests in Jordan are limited and precise. They center on the importance that Jordan's geographic location and political moderation have for our larger interest in avoiding war in the Middle East and maintaining political stability in the oil-producing states of the Arab peninsula."

State Department experts correctly summed up Jordanian King Hussein's viewpoint this way: ''Jordan does not want war with Israel, which it knows it could not win and could well result in overturning the regime."

Hussein's commitment to peace with Israel was born in defeat: the humiliation of his army in the Six Day War of June 1967. The war started on Israel's border with Egypt, but Jordan fired first on the eastern front -- and paid dearly, with the loss of Old Jerusalem and the West Bank territories. Even ardent admirers of Hussein consider Jordan's involvement in the 1967 war the usually pragmatic monarch's greatest single lapse of judgment.

Unique insight into the reasons for Hussein's costly error is provided in a new book, ''Jordan in the 1967 War,'' by Samir A. Mutawi, a Jerusalem-born Jordanian journalist. He is now Hussein's press chief -- but this was no reward for writing a sugar-coated apologia. Instead, Mutawi's book took advantage of unprecedented access to the king, his senior advisers and secret military and intelligence files to produce an authoritative, brutally candid account.

Mutawi told Dale Van Atta in Amman that he considered his book unusual because ''usually the victorious like to talk a lot and the defeated like to keep silent.''

The author doesn't shy away from embarrassing facts -- such as the total annihilation of Jordan's air force and the destruction of 80 percent of its armor in fewer than three days. Only six of Jordan's 186 tanks retreated to safety across the Jordan River, he disclosed.

The most revealing conclusion Mutawi draws from the 1967 debacle is that ''in many respects the war broke out as a result of inter-Arab rivalry.'' Examples: Egypt mounted an intensive propaganda campaign before the war accusing Jordan of failure to stand up to Israeli provocations. This caused civil unrest in Jordan. Subsequently, Jordan publicly chided Egypt for not closing the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Egypt then closed the strait and gave Israel a perfect excuse for starting a war without provoking Western opposition.

Even during the brief hostilities, Egypt put propaganda above military considerations, with disastrous results. Cairo lied to an Egyptian commander who had been put in charge of Jordanian forces, claiming that 75 percent of the Israeli air force had been wiped out. Jordan launched an offensive and learned the truth. And it never got the Egyptian air support it had been promised.

Why did Hussein join the doomed effort against Israel? Though believing that force was the worst possible option, Hussein also believed ''that war was inevitable . . . {and} that even if Jordan did not participate in the war, Israel would take the opportunity to seize the West Bank.''

The defeat was not without its benefits, Mutawi said. The principal one ''is that the Arabs have learned to exist with the state of Israel, that war is not going to produce any favorable results and that the diplomatic channel -- which King Hussein opened after the war -- is a worthwhile one.''