Courtesy Reuters

Israel and the Arabs: Iran, the Palestinians and the Gulf

In February 1979, Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yassir Arafat, arch-foe of the Israeli rulers, was welcomed to Tehran by the Iranian revolutionaries as the first foreign "head of state" to visit them. The historical irony was manifest: Arafat was treated as a hero in the same land that had supplied much of Israel's oil; the country where Israelis had participated in training the SAVAK, the Shah's secret police; and where both Israeli and Iranian pilots had trained on U.S.-supplied Phantom F-4 fighter-bombers. Arafat announced that the Ayatollah Khomeini has assured him that Iran's revolution would be incomplete until the Palestinians won theirs. Within weeks, the PLO had installed a mission in the former Israeli embassy in Tehran, as well as in Ahwaz and Khorramshahr, in the heart of the Iranian oil province, selecting as its Tehran representative Hani al-Hassan, of al-Fatah's conservative "Muslim" wing, in a move obviously designed to appeal to the Ayatollah.

The PLO is thus now positioned near the heart of the industrial West's main oil reservoir in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states. And PLO radicals now see themselves closer to realizing Arafat's implied promise after the Camp David conference in September 1978-in response to Zbigniew Brzezinski's earlier phrase, "Bye-bye, PLO"-to threaten the whole U.S. position in the Middle East, a threat repeated in more explicit forms following the signing of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in Washington, March 26, 1979.

Actually, Iran under the Shah had never been remote from the Palestine question. While keeping a close and special relationship with Israel and supplying it with oil, the Shah had also given at least lip service and diplomatic support to the Palestinian cause. For all his myopia and misjudgment at home, and his delusions of building a new Persian empire abroad based on the armed might he purchased from the United States, the Shah was shrewd enough to recognize that the Palestine question was the heart of the matter in the Middle East. Once, in

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