Unraveling the Complex Journey: Israel-Iran Relations Transitioning from Allies to Archrivals

Israel-Iran Relations From Allies to Enemies
Israel-Iran Relations From Allies to Enemies

SINGAPORE– The recent Iranian attack on Israel over the weekend is seen by many as the culmination of decades-long tension between the two nations. However, understanding the Israel-Iran relationship requires delving into its complex history, which was not always marked by animosity.

Israel-Iran Friendship Under the Pahlavi Dynasty


Initially, Israel’s relationship with Iran was remarkably positive, especially during Iran’s tenure under the Pahlavi Dynasty. This rapport dates back to 1947 when Iran, alongside India and Yugoslavia, proposed an alternative plan within the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. This plan aimed to maintain Palestine as a single federated state with separate Arab and Jewish regions. According to Oxford University historian Eirik Kvindesland, Iran’s compromise sought to balance relations with Western pro-Zionist countries, the Zionist movement, as well as neighboring Arab and Muslim nations.

However, shifts occurred when Mohammad Mosaddegh assumed office as Iran’s Prime Minister in 1951. Mosaddegh, known for his nationalist agenda, particularly in nationalizing Iran’s oil industry, severed ties with Israel, perceiving it as serving Western interests in the region. Yet, according to Kvindesland, Mosaddegh’s actions were primarily aimed at ousting British colonial influence from Iran and weakening the monarchy, with the impact on Israel-Iran relations being collateral damage.


Israel-Iran Relations Post the Iranian Revolution

The downfall of the Pahlavi Dynasty in 1979 marked a significant turning point in Israel-Iran relations. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s ascent ushered in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which embraced a fervent anti-Israel stance, considering Israel as the “Little Satan” under the shadow of the “Great Satan,” the United States. Iran severed all ties with Israel, transforming the Israeli embassy in Tehran into a Palestinian embassy. Khomeini also declared the last Friday of Ramadan as Quds Day, a time for massive demonstrations supporting Palestinians across Iran.


Trita Parsi, from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, notes that Khomeini’s support for Palestine was not merely a nationalist Arab endeavor but an Islamic cause, aimed at positioning Iran as a leader in the Palestinian struggle. This aggressive stance aimed to bolster Iran’s leadership credibility in the Islamic world while putting Arab regimes aligned with the US on the defensive.

Escalating Hostilities

Over time, hostilities between Israel and Iran escalated as both nations sought to strengthen their influence in the region. Iran’s establishment of the “Axis of Resistance,” comprising political and armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, was met with Israel’s support for various anti-Iranian factions. Iran refers to these Israeli-backed groups, such as the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), as “terrorists.”


The evolution of Israel-Iran relations underscores the intricate geopolitical dynamics and ideological shifts that have shaped the Middle East landscape. As tensions persist, the prospect of peace between these former allies turned adversaries remains elusive.



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