Postrevolutionary Iran may have taken its disregard for the feelings of others one step too far. For the first time since the overthrow of the Shah, Gulf Arabs are drawing the comparison between the Islamic Republic and the equally distrusted imperial monarchy.
Despite the protracted war against Iraq, fears that the Islamic revolution would spill over into neighboring states kept the militarily weak Gulf Arabs from publicly attacking Iran -- which, with 35 million inhabitants and an ever more unpredictable regime, is still a power to be reckoned with.
But evidence of Israeli arms deliveries to Iran is making it more and more difficult to maintain a technically neutral attitude toward the Islamic Republic.
"Of course Iran has no alternative," one Gulf diplomat said. "Iran has to buy arms wherever it can get them."
Despite professed understanding of Iran's desperate needs, the Gulf states cannot remain quiet when it comes to dealings with Israel -- which Arab conservatives view as a major threat to regional security and stability and as the "usurper of Arab lands and Arab rights."
Said one Gulf spokesman: "We cannot cover up for anyone who deals with Israel. We don't even recognize [Egyptian President] Sadat, who is our brother."
Franco-Iranian relations have also deteriorated seriously. Some 140 French nationals in Iran heeded their President's call to return home last week after a spate of anti-French street demonstrations in Iran when Mr. Bani-Sadr was granted asylum in France. Some anxious delays at the airport as the French citizens were departing made some think another hostage crisis was in the offing.
Recent Arab press editorials have been unusually harsh in their judgment of Iran. Said the Kuwaiti-published Al Anbaa newspaper: "The Iranian revolution was based on the hatred of dictatorship, tyranny, Israel, and Zionism. . . The closing of the Israeli Embassy [in Tehran] and turning the building into the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters were the most important factors in creating an unprecedented wave of support for the Iranian revolution in the Arab world. . . . Currently the revolution is slowly going back to adopting suspicious stances that require a great amount of stupidity to believe the statements refuting them."
The newspaper goes on to accuse Iran of now taking the former Israeli embassy away from the PLO and of keeping secret "incredible documents" found in the embassy, which "reveal Zionist sabotage nests in the Gulf area."
Reflecting editorials in other papers across the Arab world, Al Anbaa says, "We do not want to believe the tale [of Israeli-Iranian arms deals] but we are incapable of proving its falsehood. It is our right, then, to demand from Tehran a declaration of the truth, or otherwise, it would be in a similar position as the Shah, with regard to Israel and the US."
The Gulf Arabs' predicament is underlined by the fact that Iran is sending delegations to 37 Arab and Islamic countries to "clarify cooperation between Israel and Iran in the armaments field."
Iraqi diplomats say they expect their Arab brothers to condemn Iran relations with "our Zionist racist enemy."
Says one senior Western diplomat: "The conservative Gulf Arabs are caught in the middle. They want to irritate neither the Iranians nor the Iraqis -- both of whom are viewed with suspicion. But if the reports on Iranian-Israeli arms deals are true they will have little choice but to alienate the Islamic Republic even more."