When Israel Vetoed A Plot To Kill Khomeini In Paris
22 June 2015
By Amir Taheri
According to conventional wisdom, Iran and Israel are mortal foes locked in a
deadly struggle to the bitter end. However, David, Lord Alliance, whose
autobiography A Bazaar Life has just been published in London, does not share
the conventional wisdom.
He recalls the history of close ties between Iran and the Jewish people, going
back more than 25 centuries, when Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian
Empire, freed the Jews from their captivity in Babylon and allowed them to
return to their original homeland. Cyrus's successor Darius even financed the
rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem that was to be destroyed by the
Romans centuries later.
In more recent times, Alliance tells us, Iran has been one of the few countries
in the world where Jews could live in relative security. And when Israel
declared itself a state in 1948, Iran was the only Muslim country to recognize
it. (On that, Lord Alliance is wrong because Turkey, too, granted Israel
Alliance, a member of the United Kingdom's House of Lords and one of Britain's
most prominent industrialists in the past 50 years, makes an even more
interesting assertion: Iran is the only country that can succeed where everyone
else has failed by ''solving the Israel–Palestine problem.''
''Only Iran which knows cultures on both sides has the great capacity to
negotiate and the clout to mediate peace between two regional neighbors Israel
and Palestine,'' he writes. Notwithstanding the rhetoric from Tehran and Tel
Aviv, Iran is Israel's best hope.
He also claims that ''mullahs are experts in the art of negotiation,'' always
looking for profit, just like the merchants in the bazaars of Tehran and Kashan
where Lord Alliance spent his early years as an Iranian-Jewish shop assistant to
his father and uncles.
A man of the bazaar, Lord Alliance knows that nothing is ever done for nothing.
So, what reward would mullahs get in ''negotiating the end of the
Lord Alliance's answer is that Israel should ''offer Iran joint guardianship of
the holy Islamic sites in Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome
of the Rock.'' Interesting thought, you might say.
There is no doubt that at least part of the Israeli leadership elite is
persuaded that the mullahs of Tehran could be useful allies against hostile
Arabs. This is why Israel lobbied the US in 1985 to smuggle arms to Iran, needed
to stop Saddam Hussein's armies and then force them into retreat in the
Iran-Iraq War. In secret talks held between a US delegation sent by President
Ronald Reagan and the Khomeini government in Tehran, Israel was represented by
Amiram Nir, then a rising star of Mossad. Hassan Rouhani, the future president
of the Islamic Republic was an interpreter with the Iranian delegation led by
Ayatollah Dorri Najafabadi, then a close aide to Rafsanjani. Tehran repaid
Israel by creating Hezbollah to evict PLO forces from southern Lebanon close to
the demarcation line with Israel.
However, the solution proposed by Lord Alliance, who has close relations with
Israeli leaders and the Rafsanjani faction in Tehran, would mean a double
exclusion of Palestinians not to mention 85 percent of Muslims who do not
subscribe to Iran's brand of Islam especially in its Khomeinist version.
Alliance relates his encounter with Khomeini in Paris just weeks before the
ayatollah returned to Tehran to seize power. Accompanied by his son Ahmad, the
ayatollah came to George V, a luxury hotel in the heart of Paris for the meeting
to reassure the Jewish community through Alliance that the coming ''Islamic
regime'' would do nothing against them or Israel. A few weeks later when Shapour
Bakhtiar, the Shah's last prime minister, asked the Israelis to assassinate
Khomeini in France, the Mossad rejected the idea out of hand.
Alliance left Iran aged 16, almost penniless but with great dreams. Over the
years he became the owner of the biggest textile empire in the world, based in
Manchester, and one of Britain's wealthiest men. With wealth came social
recognition and, as is the British custom, membership of the House of Lords.
The book includes several fascinating chapters on wheeling and dealing in a
major capitalist economy where fortunes could be made out of nothing and then
unmade because of a mere slip. Though he does not tell us whether or not he
plays cricket, over the decades Alliance became a fully-fledged Englishman,
hobnobbing with the great and the good in British society. Among the people he
hired at different times were a number of senior former Cabinet ministers and
leaders from all the three major political parties. He offers delicious prose
caricatures of some of them, notably George-Brown, a former deputy leader of the
At one point he notes, tongue-in-cheek, that in a capitalist society, a man with
big pockets could go wherever he likes.
Alliance is cryptic about his contacts with the current leadership in Iran,
although in the 1990s he reportedly introduced Rouhani, then Iran's nuclear
negotiator, to several senior members of the British establishment.
Although the Iranian part of his life was brief, Alliance's memoirs show that
coming out of Iran may be easy, but getting Iran out of oneself is not. Some of
the best pages of this memoir consist of nostalgic ruminations about Alliance's
boyhood in Kashan, an ancient oasis city on the edge of the great Iranian
The Iran that Alliance loved was the one where the Shah reigned. This is why
Alliance felt the fall of the Shah was a personal tragedy, for which he blames
everyone from President Jimmy Carter to the state-owned BBC radio network.
Iranian, British and Jewish, Alliance is an interesting example of the complex
identities that our globalized world could produce. His book is also a hymn to
the openness and generosity of British society that gives the frailest of
saplings from faraway lands a chance to root and grow.
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated in Tehran, London
and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran
(1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the Sunday Times. In
1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the International Press
Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a contributor to the
International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the
New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the French magazine
Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus. Between 1989 and 2005, he
was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt. Taheri has published 11
books, some of which have been translated into 20 languages. He has been a
columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's latest book "The Persian
Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and New York.