The following story is based on an interview yesterday with a bank official and policy maker from an Arab country on the Persian Gulf. His remarks are an authoritative assessment and analysis of Arab views on the current Iranian crisis.
The sympathy of most Arab nations is with the United States and not with Iran. And until yesterday's U.S. action freezing official Iranian assets in this country and on deposit with U.S. banks here and abroad, he said, "Your cool has been admirable."
Freezing the assets, he felt, was an unnecessary step that will hurt confidence in U.S. financial markets. "Psychologically you have shaken the market. Some damage has been done. Now I will have second thoughts about American banks, and so will others. Any investors will have such thoughts, now."
Even though the Iranian government moved first on this question by announcing it would withdraw money it has on deposit with U.S. banks, the official felt the U.S. would have been well advised to allow that to happen.
Withdrawal of the funds would have made virtually no difference in world financial markets, since they would only have been redeposited in some other bank. The money, he said, is like "fluid in containers that are connected." Changing the level in one simply produces a corresponding adjustment in another.
Aside from freezing the assets, however, the official had praise for most U.S. actions since the current crisis began.
In particular, he thought Carter "was very wise on his embargo of (Iranian) oil." The president was saying, "let's not argue about oil and concentrate on the hostages. That was very wise."
But whatever wisdom may have been shown, the official could suggest no course of action now that was likely to lead to release of the hostages.
The U.S. obviously cannot send the Shah back to Iran, he said. Nor can it allow his interrogation by Iranian officials or even allow him to leave the U.S. without it being seen as an Iranian victory. "And you had better hope he doesn't die," the official continued. "if he did, it would be claimed in Iran that you had killed him to get the hostages back."
The official believes the attack on the U.S. embassy in Teheran and taking the hostages was part of a carefully thought out plan that included the expectation that the Barzagan government would resign.
The plan was launched, he is convinced, as a diversionary tactic because "the country was flying apart." The forces dividing Iran, which are religious and ethnic as well as political, will remain after the crisis confronting the U.S. ends, he said.
"If the Ayatollah should die a natural death, the country would be plunged into chaos," he continued. Even the death of the Shah, who is ill with cancer, however it would be perceived in Iran, would move a rallying point for diverse groups in Iran. That could also be enough to undermine whatever authority remains in the country, he said.
Generally speaking, the end of the Shah's rule was welcomed in the other countries on the Persian Gulf -- Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- because they all feared the Shah might sooner or later use his growing military might against them.
But the same nations have little in common with the sort of Islamic regime the Ayatollah is trying to create.