Ali Deilami

Well played, your highness

The eldest son of the last Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, at Jerusalem on April 18, 2023. Ariel Zandberg, Israel Government Press Office

“These brothers are our biggest enemies.” According to the daily notes of Asadollah Alam, Former Iranian prime minister and the minister of the Royal court, The last Shah (king) of Iran whispered these words to the chairman of the Iranian parliament in October 1973 when, during his speech, Mr. chairman asked the audience to pray for the Muslim brothers in the war.

The eldest son of that Shah had visited Israel last week. His first visit 44 years after the Islamic revolution and the abdication of his family. Amid the new Iranian protesting waves, which made a logical chance for severe political changes in Iran soon. So, with the elaborate statements he said on this travel like Iranians are ready to accept ties with Israel, he is obviously seeking ties with the enemy of his enemy, the Islamic Republic.

He promised a secular democracy for future Iran. Establishing another authoritarian state is not an option based on the international and domestic atmosphere. So, elections will be held, and public opinion matters. It means the prince is sure about the general sentiment of Iranians toward Israel. That The Iranian society is at least indifferent about relations with Israel, and even those who are pro-Palestinian won’t prioritize this topic at the time of the election and prefer to choose based on other criteria.

At first glance, it sounds like a big gamble. Once, Musa Sadr, an Iranian leader of the Lebanese Shia community, stated, “In a battle between Satan and Israel, we will fight alongside Satan.” So, What has changed in Iran in the past 5 decades that we can guess Iranians who consider Israel as absolute evil are rare?

Under Shah’s sovereignty, Iran was the first Muslim-majority country (after communist Albania) that recognized Israel, however de facto. Also, Iran refused to join the oil embargo after the Yom Kippur War. The Shah did not see Israel as a threat; on the contrary, he believed Iran and Israel had sharing same foes. Although he never hid his hard feelings about something he used to call “the American Jewish press” and their articles against him.

Since the ’50s, with the series of left coup d’états in the Middle East, Shah considered Muslim Arab states the “Biggest enemies,” not brothers. And Jamal Abdel Nasser became the most hated person in his world. So getting close to Israel was a political strategy. Albeit, he did not want the world to see him as the friend of Israel. In an interview with CBS, he directly refused friendship. He claimed the financial trade between Iran and Israel is pretty low, and intelligence cooperation is regular.

For Shah, the issue with Arab states was furthermore Nationalistic to a certain point. The plans of Jamal Abdel Nasser for Pan-Arabism got offensive for Iranians, mainly when he used the term Arabic Gulf instead of the Persian Gulf. No matter how little this subject looks for a foreign observer, Nationalistic emotions over the name of this Gulf are profound in Iran. Moreover, Shah personally was a deep Nationalist, and in an authoritarian regime, the individual ideas of the ruler can determine the policies.

Meanwhile, Shah tried to escalate the sense of patriotism and Nationalist feelings in Iran but lost power in 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini, who obtained power after him, had different thoughts like Israel must vanish from the stage of time, and Nationalism is against Islam! During the Iran-Iraq war, the official declaration was that Iranian soldiers fighting for Islam, not the homeland!

As time passed, Khomeini’s approach looked more inefficient, even for those who always supported the Islamic Republic. Again, in politics, things went wrong with the Arab world, and the brothers became rivals. Their conflict is too severe to solve with the recent agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

And in the cultural and sociological fields, several masterminds of the Islamic Republic propaganda programs finally understood that the Arab world won’t accept Iranians as a part of the Islamic brotherhood. So, paying attention to Nationalism is necessary, but only to a limited extent.

For instance, They first justified the Iranian military operation in Syria as a mission to protect sacred places for Shia Muslims. But Later added some patriotic phrases, like preventing war escalation into Iranian borders. Then, As an Iranian journalist, my colleagues and I faced daily statements (not by official authorities) that these military campaigns would rebuild the Persian empire’s era and Iran would reach the Mediterranean for the first time since the Sasanian empire (7th century AD).

Besides the unpleasant historical competition between Iranians and Arab people, the name of the Persian Gulf is always the core of all attempts to build Iranian National identity. Hence, an Anti-Arab taste is always mixed with Iranian Nationalism. And the crown prince counted on this taste that an average Iranian doesn’t want to get involved in any Anti-Zionist movement because Anti-Zionism is for the Arab world, and anything related to the Arab world is off the radar.

The irony is, despite all this taking advantage of Iranian chauvinism, Reza Pahlavi has no concerns about the reaction of the Arab countries. Because there is no possible scenario that Arab states support the Islamic Republic’s existence. The Ayatollah in Tehran is the most hated man in the region, and to get rid of him is more important than this dispute.

About the Author
Ali was a journalist in Iran, working for ISNA (Iranian Students News Agency) from 2019 to 2021. He now lives in Milan, Italy.
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