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Iran: Israel and the Non-Gulf Arab States
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Foreign Policy > Relations with Regional Powers > Israel and the Non-Gulf Arab States


Prior to the Revolution, Iran and Israel had been de facto allies in the Middle East. One of the very first acts of the provisional government was to denounce that relationship and to turn over the former Israeli mission in Tehran to the Palestine Liberation Organization. All trade with Israel was banned, especially the sale of oil. Iranian leaders contended that Israel's existence was illegitimate, because it came about as a result of the destruction of Palestine. Therefore, Iran advocated eradicating Israel and reconstituting Palestine. Those Arabs who advocated compromise with Israel, such as Anwar as Sadat of Egypt, were excoriated as traitors. In general, Iran's relations with the Arab states have been based on perceptions of each state's relations with Israel. Thus, Iran has been hostile toward those states it regarded as willing to accept Israel's existence -- Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia -- and friendly toward those it regarded as sharing Iranian views -- Algeria, Libya, and Syria. Despite its uncompromising position, however, Iran is known to have purchased weapons clandestinely from Israel as recently as 1985.

Syria has been revolutionary Iran's principal ally in the Middle East. This relationship involved both political and economic ties. The de facto alliance between the two countries emerged at the beginning of 1982. At that time, Iran supported the government of Hafiz al Assad against the Muslim Brotherhood, which had risen in rebellion against the secularizing policies of the ruling Baath Party. Iran's backing of the Syrian government was significant because the Muslim Brotherhood was the first Islamic political group to claim the Iranian Revolution as the primary inspiration for its rebellion. Soon after the Muslim Brotherhood had been crushed, Damascus shut down the pipeline through which Iraqi oil crossed Syria to reach Mediterranean ports. This action against another Arab state, which also was ruled by a Baath party, was an important gesture in support of the Iranian war effort. The action was also a hostile blow against Iraq because Iraqi Persian Gulf ports had been blockaded since the beginning of the war, and the only other exit route for its oil exports was through a smaller pipeline traversing Turkey. Iran had agreed to provide Syria 20,000 barrels of oil per day free of charge as compensation for the transit fees Syria would lose by closing the pipeline. Iran also agreed to sell Syria additional oil it required, at a heavily discounted price. In 1987 this agreement was again renewed. Syria also provided Iran arms from its own stock of Soviet- and East European-made weapons.

Data as of December 1987

Last Updated: December 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iran was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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