Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, also called Islamic Revolution, Palestinian leaders have cozied up to Iran's ayatollahs. As protests and calls for regime change continue to echo throughout the world stemming from Iran for over six months continuously, the Palestinians’ long and sordid ties with the Islamic Republic are coming to light more than ever before.
Going back to 1979, just days after the Islamic Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the Shah, Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), flew to Iran to celebrate it, even calling Iran his “home.” He was escorted by none other than the Iranian Air Force, newly allied with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and received a hero’s welcome.
The ties between the PLO and the ayatollahs in fact pre-date the Islamic Revolution as the PLO had assisted in anti-Shah activities for some time, with the home base for such “revolutionaries” being Lebanon in the 1970s.
The PLO assisted both the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), as well as pro-Khomeini revolutionaries, the most notable of which was Mohammad Montazeri, a terrorist with a leading role in developing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) post-revolution. Montazeri also explicitly asked Arafat to send PLO terrorists to Iran to help train the IRGC post-revolution.
But, while the terrorist training and weapons procurement occurred primarily in Lebanon, it was also reported that PLO terrorists were on the ground fighting during the revolution. Many of them were brought to Iran by MEK, according to the Iranian Queen Farah Pahlavi at the time of the revolution, as well as an eyewitness source in Iran at the time who spoke to Ynet about the events which took place in 1979.
“Palestinians were present in all kinds of attacks during the revolution, with the help of MEK. It was from them primarily that they learned how to fight and use weapons,” said M, who was serving in the Iranian army at the time of the revolution at a base in Tehran.
M explained that during the last three days of the revolution, they were trapped on the military base and unable to leave. “Only a few people could go to their homes because they were living in the apartments (social buildings for military staff) so around 9am on the day of revolution, the revolutionaries, with the help of Palestinians, attacked the base with weapons, killing many people, some people from the offices heard and saw what was happening and tried to escape through hidden doors and corridors.”
M continued, “With 3 generals, we took a military Jeep and tried to escape through hidden gates, but the revolutionaries and Palestinians saw the car from afar and started shooting at the car. Fortunately, they were not successful and that’s how I escaped.”
If Arafat’s welcome in the days after the fall of the Shah is any indicator, the terror ties between Tehran and the PLO were ironclad. Arafat was greeted by IRGC members upon his arrival, along with 59 of his companions, and he was escorted by the son of the ayatollah himself throughout his visit.
The diplomatic visit was so important to the Islamic regime that the Islamic Revolutionary Court paused the mass executions of the Shah’s government in order to give full attention to the PLO leader. The very day of his arrival, he met with Ayatollah Khomeini and stated publicly, “I tell Moshe Dayan that he can rely on the U.S., but I rely on Iran under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini.”
During Arafat’s visit, the newly installed Islamic regime “gifted” what had been the Israeli embassy to the PLO, declaring it the new PLO offices. Footage from Iranian sources shows Arafat beaming at the sight of anti-Israel graffiti on the walls of the ransacked former Israeli embassy in Tehran.
Cheered by adoring crowds of the Ayatollah’s supporters, Arafat gave a speech to the revolutionaries with Khomeini where the latter declared, “Today in Iran and tomorrow in Palestine, we will liberate the land of Palestine together.”
Tehran-PLO ties were maintained until the early 1980s after which Arafat’s attempts to meddle in Iranian affairs eventually alienated Khomeini. Yet despite tensions over terrorist rivalries such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the IRI did attempt to provide weapons to the PLO in 2002 during the Second Intifada, shipping over 50 tons of weapons in what was ultimately intercepted by Israel in the Karine A Affair.
Senior Vice President of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Jonathan Schanzer, who is also a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Treasury, explains that, “the Karine A affair was a sign of what was to come…which is to say that Iran invested heavily in the Second Intifada. The goal was destabilization of the West Bank and a strategy of chaos to destabilize Israel.”
Post Arafat, and under the leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei, the IRI’s support for Palestinian terrorism only continued. United by an ideological bloodlust for terrorism and commitment to the destruction of the state of Israel, the IRI views the Palestinian struggle as their ticket to legitimacy in the Arab world, which largely rejects the Shia majority nation as authorities of anything in the Muslim world.
As such, the Islamic regime relies on Palestinian terrorism as much as Palestinian terrorists rely on the Islamic regime.
It is for that reason that the IRI has developed a bizarre obsession with Israel and Jews, including installing a “countdown to the destruction of Israel” clock in central Tehran, initiating “Al Quds Day” across the Arab world calling for the “liberation” of Jerusalem from Israeli control, and bankrolling Palestinian terrorist organizations both Shia such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Sunni such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and Hamas.
This fanatical emphasis on Israel has not gone unnoticed by everyday Iranians. Mina, an Iranian from Tehran area, told Ynet that “despite the IRI trying to brainwash the population in Iran into hating Israel from a very young age, going as far as teaching kids in primary schools that Israel is our biggest enemy, Iranians remain aware that the IRI funds 'revolutionary fighters' (Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad) in Palestine…instead of caring for Iranians, the IRI uses its assets to fund Hamas.”
Elham, another Iranian currently living in Tehran reported a similar upbringing. “When I was a kid our state TV was always showing content against Israel (they call Zionists)…I really thought that Israel is a monster or demon.”
For the PLO and later Palestinian Authority, however, the tune has changed slightly under the rule of President Mahmoud Abbas. “Abbas is corrupt, a horrific leader…this is a guy who’s not interested in democracy or the welfare of his own people, but we haven't seen him build the same alliance [as Arafat] with Iran,” said Schanzer.
But while the Palestinian Authority post-Arafat has been slightly less favorable to the IRI, the Ayatollah has worked hard to bolster Palestinian terror groups. Schanzer explains, “Iran was undeniably behind the coup in Gaza against the Palestinian Authority when Hamas took over,” helping to fuel internal Palestinian strife.
Iranian funding of terror groups has been well documented by numerous officials, think tanks, intelligence organizations of multiple countries, as well as the IRI itself.
According to former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the Islamic regime has given millions of dollars to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has even praised the regime in Iran for enabling its numerous attacks on Israel noting that the IRI “did not hold back with money, weapons, and technical support.”
The top advisor to Khamenei, Ali Akbar Velayat, once said, “We have a close and serious relationship with the Islamic Jihad movement and the Palestinian resistance.”
Schanzer explains further that even today, newer Palestinian terror groups such as the Lion’s Den have assistance from the IRI. “The other thing that is deeply troubling right now is that there is a nerve center based in Beirut, and this is a project of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror groups that are working to bring weapons and violence to the West Bank.”
On the recent uprisings in Iran, while many Israelis and Israeli leaders such as Prime Minister Netanyahu have taken a strong stand in support of the people of Iran against the regime, Palestinian leaders have been radio silent, except for Hamas condemning the attack on a mosque in Shiraz which many Iranians believe to have been an inside job by the IRI itself to distract from the anti-regime protests.
From the other side, throughout the last six months of protests in Iran, regime-controlled media has repeatedly expressed support for Palestinian actions and agreed with Palestinian leaders on a variety of positions on issues in the region, once again showing the deep ideological ties that put Palestinians at odds with the majority of the Arab world.
Indeed, while Israel draws closer to its Arab neighbors standing against a potential nuclear Iran that threatens the well-being of the entire region, Palestinians - thanks in large part to the terrorist organizations in control of Gaza - have drawn closer each year to the Islamic regime in Iran.
A relationship rooted in Islamic terrorism from the start, it’s hard to expect anything less from the Palestinian-Tehran alliance until the Islamic Republic falls.