Son of last Iranian shah to visit Israel in bid to renew ‘ancient bond’

Reza Pahlavi says he’ll take part in Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations and learn about Israeli water tech during trip, expresses hope for future ‘Cyrus Accords’

Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah of Iran, speaks during an interview in Washington, DC, September 27, 2022. (Olivier Douliery/AFP)
Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah of Iran, speaks during an interview in Washington, DC, September 27, 2022. (Olivier Douliery/AFP)

The son of the Western-backed Iranian monarch deposed by the Islamic Revolution announced plans Sunday to visit Israel this week in an effort to restore the “ancient bond” between the nations.

A statement posted by Reza Pahlavi on his Twitter account said the trip will also focus on Israeli water technology and Holocaust commemoration. Israel is set to mark Holocaust Memorial Day starting Monday evening.

Israel and Iran maintained close ties — particularly on energy and security — during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in a popular 1979 uprising led by Islamist clerics.

The two countries have since become bitter enemies, with Iranian leaders regularly calling for the Jewish state’s destruction and backing armed groups committed to this goal.

Israel has sought to isolate Iran internationally and works to counter Iran’s military efforts and nuclear program and has carried out attacks in Syria and elsewhere on Iranian-linked targets.

Pahlavi’s itinerary includes talks with government officials and a stop at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He will also visit a desalination plant and meet experts in water and agriculture, as well as with members of the Baha’i community in Haifa. During the trip, he said he plans to deliver a speech “outlining his vision for an Iranian democracy,” according to the statement.

Iranian demonstrators burn a representation of the Israeli flag in their rally to mark Jerusalem Day, an annual show of support for the Palestinians, in Tehran, Iran, April 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“The Iranian and Jewish people have ancient bonds dating back to Cyrus the Great and Queen Esther,” Pahlavi was quoted as saying, referring respectively to the Persian king who allowed the Jews to return to Zion from exile in the 6th century BCE and the Jewish heroine of the Purim story.

“As the children of Cyrus, the Iranian people aspire to have a government that honors his legacy of upholding human rights and respecting religious and cultural diversity, including through the restoration of peaceful and friendly relations with Israel and Iran’s other neighbors in the region.”

Pahlavi claimed millions of Iranians “reject the regime’s genocidal anti-Israel and antisemitic policies” and expressed hope for the eventual restoration of diplomatic ties.

Public sentiment toward Israel in Iran can be difficult to gauge, due to the regime’s tight control of daily life. Anti-Israel rallies, such as those around Iran Friday to mark Jerusalem Day, regularly draw large crowds chanting anti-Israel rhetoric, though authorities have been accused of forcing people to attend demonstrations.

An activist holds a picture of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi during a gathering in support to Iran’s anti-government protesters, in Strasbourg, eastern France, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP/Jean-Francois Badias)

At the same time, some anti-regime protests have included angry denunciations of Tehran’s decision to fund terror groups opposing Israel while the country is in dire economic straits.

“A democratic Iran will seek to reestablish ties with Israel and our Arab neighbors — perhaps as part of a future Cyrus Accords,” Pahlavi said, in a play on the US-backed Abraham Accords that saw Israel normalize diplomatic relations with several Arab states.

While Pahlavi is in Israel, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel will serve as his host.

Gamliel, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, 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.

The statement from Pahlavi noted the visit will come as Iran pushes forward its nuclear program and amid ongoing unrest triggered by the death of a young Iranian woman while in the custody of the Islamic Republic’s “morality police.”

Pahlavi has hailed the women-led protests and last year predicted the regime could soon collapse if they continue.

Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah of Iran, speaks during an interview in Washington, DC, September 27, 2022. (OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP)

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.

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.

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