Friendship and understanding: The unsuspected period in Israeli-Iranian relations

From the creation of Israel in 1948, until the Iranian Revolution of 1979, friendly and cooperative relations existed between Israel and Iran, then governed by the Pahlavi dynasty.

A common strategic vision as the basis for cooperation

In 1950, Iran became the second Muslim country to officially recognize the State of Israel, following Turkey, which had done so in 1949. This recognition can be explained by the fact that there were common interests between Iran and Israel, including shared concerns about the rise of Arab nationalism. In addition, both countries shared worries about Soviet influence in the region. From an Israeli perspective, this was a moment of major importance, breaking a diplomatic isolation and launching the phase of the "periphery" concept, as expressed by then Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. This concept of "periphery" emerged from a historical analysis, highlighting the two millennia of anti-Semitism suffered by Jews, as well as the persistent rejection of Israel's existence by Arab countries. Thus, the only way for Israel to avoid total isolation was to forge strategic alliances with non-Arab states and other religious minorities. However, Ben-Gurion took his thinking a step further, quickly perceiving the advantage of this peripheral policy in relation to the United States. Indeed, these alliances position Israel as a strategic player, forming a bridge between Western powers and regional actors.

As Ben-Gurion explained in a letter to President Eisenhower on July 24, 1958:

"With the project of forming a dam against the surging Nasserist and Soviet wave, we have begun to strengthen our ties with certain states outside the perimeter of the Middle East - Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia, and so on. Our aim is to organize a group of countries, not necessarily a formal alliance, that will be able to stand up to Soviet expansion through Nasser, and a group that could save Lebanon's freedom, and perhaps Syria's too."

This marked the beginning of a natural alliance and friendship between Iran and Israel that would last for over 30 years. This relationship, based on the principle of "mutual benefit", took shape in many different ways.

An energy partnership as an essential component

As we have already explained, Iran's recognition of Israel naturally led to the possibility of closer cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the commercial sphere. After the defeat of the Arab countries in the 1948 war to prevent the emergence of an Israeli state, Egypt and Iraq cut off Israel's oil supplies. In 1958, the oil situation became critical for Israel, following the USSR's decision to cease sales. Israel turned to its partner Iran.

Iran soon became Israel's main supplier of oil, and in 1967 the two allies established a pipeline linking Eilat on the shores of the Red Sea to the infrastructure of the Mediterranean port city of Ascalon. By the end of the 1960s, the pipeline was transporting 10 million tonnes of oil a year, exceeding Israel's needs. On this basis, relations were consolidated, as events later proved. The 1973 oil embargo did not include Iran in its ranks. This decision is the fruit of successful economic cooperation between Israel and Iran, enabling the latter to generate substantial revenues, amplified by the rapid rise in oil prices. Thus, by consolidating their cooperation in crucial areas such as energy, these two countries have demonstrated the possibility of establishing a constructive dynamic despite complex geopolitical contexts. In addition, another strategic area, known as the "Fleur project", will make a particular contribution to consolidating relations between Iran and Israel.

The petals of the "Fleur" project

On July 18, 1977, a key meeting took place between the Iranian Deputy War Minister, General Hassan Toufanian, and Israeli officials, namely Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman. The aim of the meeting was to strengthen relations between the two countries on various collaborative military projects, including the "Fleur" project. A particularly interesting facet of economic cooperation between Iran and Israel, the project reveals a dimension of relations between the two nations in which economic and security interests are complexly intertwined.

The "Fleur" project involves Israel enhancing Iran's expertise in the field of medium-range missile launch systems, with a specific adaptation for submarine-launched missiles. In exchange, Iran pays Israel $300 million, plus $250 million in oil equivalent.

On the technical front, Israel plays a leading role in the development of advanced technologies for guidance, navigation and propulsion systems. Advanced devices, such as infrared sensors and electronic countermeasure systems, are an integral part of the design to optimize missile accuracy and operational efficiency. At the same time, Iran handles the manufacturing phase, using its specialized facilities to produce essential missile components. These cutting-edge technologies are put through rigorous tests in a variety of conditions, both atmospheric and underwater, to guarantee their reliability and functionality in all circumstances.

The unsuspected period of Israeli-Iranian relations, from the creation of Israel in 1948 to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, provides a complex narrative combining diplomatic, strategic and economic elements. The bond between these two nations, initially based on common interests and a shared strategic vision, endured for over 30 years. This period is a powerful reminder that there was a time when these two nations succeeded in forging ties based on cooperation, mutual trust and the hope of a shared future. Let us hope that the lessons learned from this moment will be put to good use in the search for constructive solutions to the contemporary challenges facing the region.

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