TEL AVIV (Feb. 19)
The long close cooperation between Israel and Iran officially came to a sad end today with the return of the last 33 Israelis from Teheran. The large Iranian delegation here also announced it had been recalled home.
The end of what had mainly been economic relations, since Iran had never established official diplomatic relations with Israel, came amid reports from Teheran that the government controlled by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khoumeini had turned over the Israeli trade mission building to the Palestine Liberation Organization. Iran announced last night it was expelling all Israelis.
PLO chief Yasir Arafat, who yesterday received a warm welcome in Iran, presided at the takeover today and was reported to have said: “We freed Iran today and we will do the same with Palestine tomorrow. Under the leadership of Ayatollah Khoumeini and with the help of Iranian freedom fighters, we will free Palestine.
Arafat, who was the first foreign official visiting Iran since the revolution, was told by Khoumeini that Iranians would “turn to the issue of victory over Israel” once the new Iranian government had consolidated its strength. Arafat reportedly declared that the Iranian revolution had “turned upside down” the balance of forces in the Middle East. He said “every Iranian freedom dighter is represented in the Palestinian revolution.”
The returning Israelis, who arrived shortly after midnight today, were welcomed home almost as returning hostages, by a high-level delegation that included Yosef Ciechanover, director general of the Foreign Ministry; Mordechai Hod and Mordechai Ben Ari, the director general and board chairman, respectively, of EI AI; and senior Jewish Agency officials.
‘WE CAME OUT OF HELL’
The returnees included EI AI, Jewish Agency and economic mission personnel. Among them was Mordechai Ben Porat, a former MK who went to Iran on a special mission to help bring Iranian Jews to Israel. He said in the last few days there were a growing number of Jews who wanted to leave but the new Iranian government has banned all Iranians from emigration.
“We came out of hell,” one of the returning Israelis said. “These were the most difficult days of our life.” The Israelis had stayed in hiding during the last few days in a Teheran suburb and were evacuated along with close to 800 Americans last night to Frankfurt from where they were flown by EI AI to Israel. They were apparently told when they arrived here not to talk to the press, but the agony they had gone through could be seen on their faces.
They said that the Iranian security people at the airport had been especially rough on them before they left, going through their luggage more than once. Some were afraid that they would not be allowed to leave, and they did not feel safe until the plane actually took off.
Meanwhile, as the Iranians here closed up their mission located in Ramat Gan, one Iranian told on Israeli reporter that “this is a very sad moment for all of us. We liked the work and the people here.”