This week, the exiled Iranian crown prince is due to pay a visit to Israel, reflecting both the animosity that exists between Israel and the Islamic Republic now and the close relations that his father formerly had with the Jewish state.
The last shah to control Iran before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Reza Pahlavi, announced on Sunday that he would be delivering “a message of friendship from the Iranian people.”
He is set to participate in Israel’s annual Holocaust memorial ceremony on Monday night, said Israeli Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, who will host him. He is also set to visit a desalination plant, see the Western Wall and meet representatives of the local Bahai community and Israeli Jews of Iranian descent, she said.
Gamliel praised the “brave decision” by Pahlavi to make what she said would be his first visit to Israel. “The crown prince symbolizes a leadership different from that of the ayatollah regime, and leads values of peace and tolerance, in contrast to the extremists who rule Iran,” she said.
Pahlavi left Iran at age 17 for military flight school in the US, just before his cancer-stricken father Mohammad Reza Pahlavi abandoned the throne for exile. The revolution followed, with the creation of the Islamic Republic, the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran and the sweeping away of the last vestiges of the American-backed monarchy.
Pahlavi, who still resides in the US, has called for a peaceful revolution that would replace clerical rule with a parliamentary monarchy, enshrine human rights and modernize its state-run economy.
Whether he can galvanize support for a return to power is unknown. His father ruled lavishly and repressively and benefitted from a CIA-supported coup in 1953. The late shah also had close diplomatic and military ties with Israel.
That ended in 1979, when the Iranian revolution’s leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, declared Israel an “enemy of Islam” and cut all ties. Today, the countries are arch-enemies.
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest threat, citing the country’s calls for Israel’s destruction, its support of hostile militant groups on Israel’s borders and its nuclear program. Iran denies accusations by Israel and its western allies that it is pursuing a nuclear bomb.
“I want the people of Israel to know that the Islamic Republic does not represent the Iranian people. The ancient bond between our people can be rekindled for the benefit of both nations,” Pahlavi said on Twitter.