The temptation for Israel "to use its military might while it is at its peak" is the most dangerous political fact in the world today and one that directly threatens President Carter's peace efforts.
That warning from King Hussein, now in his 25th year on the throne of Jordan, is coupled with another conclusion that cuts at the heart of American policy toward Israel since its conquests 10 years ago in the Six Day War.
"It has been said that a strong Israel is a moderate Israel," the King told us in an interview. "I am afraid it is now clear that is not true."
Hussein expressed the usual hope that Carter's plan to reconvene the Geneva conference will succeed, and praised Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance for their peace efforts. But his inner mood was melancholy, not optimistic. The reason is found in, his somber view of Israel's real intentions, and its ability, thanks to the billion-dollars-a-year military pipeline from the United States, to make good those intentions.
"I firmly believe that they are not interested in any withdrawal from the occupied territories, particularly the West Bank and Gaza," he said. "They have in the back of their minds a base in all of Palestine, after 2,000 years, and I don't think they will part from it even for true peace."
The King had just sent the President a request for clarifications and modifications in the U.S.-Israel working paper on the procedural arrangements for Geneva. Clearly, the task for coordinating Syria, Egypt and Jordan on a common Arab position is proving to be no picnic.
For example, on the central question of attendance of the Palestine Liberation Organization at Geneva - absolutely ruled out by Israel - Jordan is not at all interested in making a fight. Since the PLO has been designated by the Arab world as "sole representative" of the Palestinians on the West Bank (in clear view across the river from Hussein's palace), Jordan theoretically is not even a direct party for the Geneva talks about Israel's withdrawal.
But the King was vague about this. The PLO issue, he told us, is "rather important," and it would be "of great benefit" to have the PLO at Geneva.
The real question, he said, is not so much the PLO (described by one high government official here as the rotten apple in the Geneva barrel). Rather, it is to let the West Bank Palestinians themselves decide their future - "the people of Palestine as such, without pressure from anyone, should exercise the right of self-determination under international auspices."
Hussein's deepest worry is neither the PLO nor the West Bank but what he sees as Israel's real game: "To outmaneuver the Arabs and remove any blame from themselves for lack of progress" in getting to Geneva or in a breakdown of diplomacy thereafter.
Thus, he implied, Jordan, Egypt and Syria should at all costs agree to go to Geneva and not let Israel's procedural demands deflect them. Otherwise, "Israel may get off the hook" and blame the Arabs for a breakdown and then, on any one of a multitude of manufactured pretexts, bring into play its immense military power.
However it may appear in the West, this view of a militaristic Israel capable of brazen exploitation of its U.S.-supplied power is today one of the underlying realities in the Arab world - a reality some students of Mideast politics have warned about for years.
Hussein's special worry about the probability of yet another Israeli military attack ("the shadow of the unknown hanging over us") is Jordan's vulnerability as an easy avenue to Syria and Iraq.
"Jordan lies between Israel and major sources of Arab energy," he told us. His nightmare, which American politicians have until recently dismissed as Arab paranoia, is yet another failure of peace efforts - with the Americans blaming the Arabs, followed by a lightning Israeli assault to destroy the Arabs' warmaking capability. As the soft underbelly of the Arab world east of the Jordan River, Jordan, in the eyes of the King, could not be spared.