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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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Exclusive: The Significance of Reza Pahlavi’s Visit to Israel

Filed under: Iran, Israel

Exclusive: The Significance of Reza Pahlavi’s Visit to Israel
(Left to right) Israeli Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, Yasmine Pahlavi, Reza Pahlavi, Sara Netanyahu, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Iran International)
Journalist Ahdeya Ahmed
Journalist Ahdeya Ahmed

Israeli Minister of Intelligence Gila Gamliel hosted Reza Pahlavi, the son of the Shah of Iran and the most senior Iranian personality to pay a public visit to Israel (April 17-21, 2023). This is an analysis of the visit from journalist Ahdeya Ahmed, former chairwoman of the Bahraini Journalists Association.

At a time when the Iranian people are rebelling against the ayatollah regime, much of the world watched the visit of Iran’s Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi to Israel with surprise and admiration.

Israel’s invitation to Pahlavi was brave, showing that Israel could speak directly to the Iranian people. It also came at a time when the people of Iran feel abandoned by the world. Condemnations of the brutality of the Iranian regime by a few human rights organizations will not confer benefits on the Iranian people. The international community stands with Iranian youth and women tortured and killed daily by the regime thugs. But Israel was the only country that invited Pahlavi recently, which infused the Iranian people with the fact that a strong power stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them. That sends an unmistakable message to the ayatollahs.

In the Gulf, the Crown Prince was never considered an adversary. He was not involved in any intrigues targeting Gulf countries’ stability; therefore, the Gulf does not frown upon him like the ayatollahs and the IRGC.  Whatever history the former Shah may have had in our region, it was left in the past. Whether there was a rift between the Shah and Gulf states or not, Reza Pahlavi, the son, was never considered an adversary.  On the contrary, a local Bahraini newspaper published a full-page interview with Reza a decade ago, following the Iranian regime’s attempted coup in Bahrain in 2011.

The Gulf countries were reminded over the course of four decades that the ayatollah regime was an enemy. As a result, Gulf leaders also supported Iraq in its war against the ayatollah regime.  

As a sovereign nation, Israel has the right to invite political figures at its pleasure.  But this time, Reza was viewed not just as the Shah’s son but as the representative of the Iranian opposition. And in fact, any country would embrace a political figure who could be the future leader of a country that threatens its neighbors’ existence today. Supporting Pahlavi in any form is Israel’s right.   

Israel’s invitation attracted attention across the globe. Pahlavi publicly announced and promoted the visit, particularly his visit to religious sites in Israel. It was significant to show that the leader Israel supports as a friend is far from the ayatollah regime that kills women who choose to leave their hair uncovered.

The impact of the visit was positive in the minds of all those who reject the IRGC and seek an empowered and publicly acknowledged opposition figure. People in the Gulf have suffered at the hands of Iran’s brutal proxy groups. Now they saw that Israel invited an Iranian figure who stands a chance of replacing the brutal ayatollahs. Forty-three years of wars and Iran’s subversive agendas toward its neighbors will never be brushed off.  Israel supported Pahlavi by promoting the only acceptable face of the Iranian opposition, bearing in mind that the Iranian opposition in this case is not only the Iranian people but the people in the Gulf whose children died in the war with the Houthis, funded by the Iranian regime.  

People in Bahrain have also been impacted by terrorist cells funded by Hizbullah to create chaos in Bahrain and involved in acts of terrorism. The Iranian opposition is also people who fear Hamas’ rockets targeted at them. Therefore, in this context, the resistance towards the Iranian regime extends well beyond the Iranian people themselves.

Crown Prince Reza, the eldest son of the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, ended his visit to Israel with a statement reflecting the uniquely friendly relationships between Iran and Israel before the doomed so-called Islamic revolution. In 1979, some believed Iran fomented a revolution, but most Iranians understood the revolution was, simply put, Islamic extremists hijacking a country with thousands of years of a rich civilization.

Today, Iranians themselves continue to express pride in their national identity.  The West’s support of the Iranian regime’s hijacking of their country and people will ultimately be viewed by the international community as one of its biggest political failures:  Ousting an ally of the West and replacing him with religious fanatics and political extremists has never worked – whether in Iran, Egypt, or Afghanistan. The United States, a strategic ally of the Shah and the West, would be blamed.

Many believe Khomeini deceived the West.  Could it be that these Western governments with years of political and intelligence experience were that naïve? And like any other issue in the East, the West is routinely blamed directly or indirectly for regional mishaps. In reality, Khomeini could have been stopped, but he wasn’t.

From a secular Iran that envisioned the Shah fashioning a more modern state in 1979, Iran became a “revolution with a flag” virtually overnight, ruled by Islamic messianism that promised to export their Islamic revolution. The Shah was accused of human rights violations in a situation where he could have murdered hundreds on the streets to stay in power, as many other leaders in the world did at the time. Instead, he left, refusing to keep the crown on his head if it came at the cost of blood on his hands.

Those who went to the streets and screamed “Death to the Shah” would 43 years later be the same people whose grandchildren are shot, killed, and raped on Iran’s streets and in its prisons.

Khomeini publicly announced his intention to export his so-called Islamic revolution. His regime would birth and raise terrorist organizations in our region.

Crown Prince Pahlavi left as a young man and never intended to return to Iran as a ruler, but he always stressed his desire to return as a citizen. Therefore, disassociating himself from the glory of the Pahlavis worked to his benefit.

Reza Pahlavi
Reza Pahlavi in his Washington, D.C., office. (Courtesy)

His visit to Israel was a strong statement of his intention to represent his people as the leader of the opposition. His visit was well received by many Iranians who, for decades, have lacked a legitimate political opposition leader. After siding with Saddam Hussein in the Iranian-Iraqi war, the radical group, Mojahedin-e Khalq, is unacceptable to most Iranians.

Today, the Iranian people also realize they need a political leader with a clean slate and record. Pahlavi, representing the monarchy, may not be accepted as a future king, as many may not accept the return of a monarchy. However, he may still be acceptable as a civilian candidate and future leader.

And with few allies around him in the Middle East, Pahlavi’s visit to Israel reflected support from one of the region’s and the world’s powers.

While some delegitimized his visit as insignificant, many viewed it as a bold move and a strong message to the ayatollahs.

Pahlavi spoke about a democratic secular Iran and emphasized a Middle East that must defang an extremist regime whose people have suffered from hunger while funding the radical Hizbullah, Houthis, and Hamas with billions of dollars for more than four decades.

In the eyes of many in this part of the world, who have lived and seen what the Iranian regime has done to its neighbors for four decades through its terror proxies in the region, Pahlavi’s visit sent a loud and clear message. The intention of returning to Iran is solid, and Israel’s support is solid, too. His visit also occurred when Iranians stopped burning Israeli and U.S. flags and realized their only enemy is the turbaned, powerful ayatollahs. 

Today, the Iranians generally refuse to chant “death to Israel and America” or step on those countries’ flags painted on the ground. However, they do recognize their need for assistance. They are mindful that their country should not be torn apart. They also know that supporting Crown Prince Pahlavi may be the only lifeline to grab onto to stay afloat.

The historical record provides lessons. The Iranians have been neglected for decades, and the ayatollahs have become more assertive. But throughout history, we have seen the downfall of dictators. Sadly, the current regime will continue without strong support for a viable, prospective solid leader. Pahlavi’s visit reminded them of the glory and the allies they once had. It also reminded them that Israel was never an enemy. Finally, Israel sent them a message. “They are not alone.”

Pahlavi needs support, and the people of Iran must be given the right to choose what is best for them. The visit to Israel was a bold move by Prince Reza, and the Iranians need to unite behind a leader who is accepted in the region.  This visit, I believe, sent a strong message to the ayatollahs, a message I hope will be followed by decisive actions.

Pahlavi’s visit to Israel conveyed an important message about his need for political and media support. However, beyond the ceremonies and the social network campaigns, Pahlavi is the only realistic hope to forge a united front to unseat the ayatollahs.