Angry U.S. diplomats throughout the Persian Gulf spent Christmas in lonely chanceries with pet dogs while their "evacuated" families where home in the states, symbolizing this harsh fact: U.S. prestige in the Arab world is lower than at any time since the late 1960s.

It is not just that diplomats miss thier wives and children, needlessly sent packing by official panic in Washington after the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan was sacked. They feel it is a gratuitous insult to friendly, predictably safe Arab nations (similar to Iran and Pakistan only in being Moslem) that fits Washington's general mishandling of policy in this region.

While Arab leaders in the oil-rich gulf were offended by the evacuation of U.S. dependents, they were more seriously dismayed when the United States reacted against Ayatollah Khomeini by freezing Iranian assets. During our three-week reporting trip through the Gulf, leaders of many countries described both events to us as the conduct of a frightened man who punches himself in the nose when faced with adversity.

What's more, even before the Iranian crisis those nations did a slow burn over President Carter's appointment of Sol Linowitz as Mideast negotiator. Linowitz is seasoned and expert in diplomacy, but the fact that he is a prominent American Jewish layman tells the Arabs Carter will not apply pressure to separate Israel from its West Bank conquests and establish a Palestinian homeland.

Carter's acquiescence in new Israeli settlements on the West Bank after Camp David sours U.S.-Arab relations east of Suez. Add to that what is perceived as a shaky U.S. reaction to the hostage crisis, and the oil states are not about to endanger themselves by firm links to Uncle Sam. That is particularly true of the small, conservative, ethnically diverse, militarily weak, immensely rich emirates of the Gulf -- such as Kuwait.

This was reflected by Sheik Salem Sabah Salem Sabah, a member of Kuwait's ruling family and minister of defense, in an interwiew with us. While Western in orientation, the cultivated Salem is not happy with policy shaped by Washington in response to the hostage crisis.

"I think they [the United States] displayed nervousness," he told us, criticizing evacuation of dependents. As for freezing Iranian assets, Salem declared: "It was childish. You hit me and I'll hit you back." Pro-Western Arabs, contending pressure on the dollar from Iran could have been discounted by the world's central banks, were amazed at Carter's snap reaction without understanding implications for future investment of Arab oil revenue.

Kuwaiti officials were particularly unhappy over the evacuation, considering their ability to keep an anti-American demonstration of Iranian immigrants far from U.S. Embassy gates Dec. 1. But if there was some faint pretext for removing dependents from Kuwait after that single demonstration, there was non whatever in Qatar, Oman, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and probably Dahrain. Only frantic efforts by State Department Arabists kept the order from applying to -- and seriously offending -- Saudi Arabia.

U.S. diplomats throughout the region risked careers by protesting, in repeated telegrams to Washington, the ignorance behind the evacuation order. But these professionals sadly acknowledge that the underlying U.S. problem in the Arab world is policy toward Israel that will remain unchanged at least through 1980.

The U.S. diplomats and Arab leaders, the Linowitz appointment confirmed that fact. Mohammed ibn Mubarak Khalifa, Bahrain's foreigh minister, had privately complained to the United States that Arabs could not take Robert Strauss seriously as Mideast negotiator because of his religion. When Strauss was replaced by Linowitz, he advised Washington to consider his previous protest duplicated.

In this climate, sympathy for the U. S. plight in Tehran is diluted. Sheik Salem voiced suspicion to us that Washington might have engineered the hostage situation to justify U.S. military intervention. It was a view we heard repeatedly from Arabs.

The Gulf oil states are not inclined to be helpful. After privately promising to increase oil production, Abu Dhabi is reducing it. Its neighboring emirate, Dubai, is selling on the spot market. Kuwait sets the style: less oil, higher prices. Kuwait wants no part of a U.S. military presence and refused, as a U.N. Security Council member, to back sanctions against Iran.

It is understandable. Kuwait is memaced at home and abroad: at home by 300,000 immigrants from the Palestinian diaspora and by Kuwaiti youth deploring military service when so much money is to be made; abroad by revolurionary regimes in Iran and Iraq, by Soviet troops pouring into Afghanistan and by the growing Soviet naval presence.

Given such adversity, Persian Gulf Arabs hesitate to rely on a faraway power whose response to pressure is sending home the wives and children of its diplomats. together.

Some justices cannot avoid being dismayed and dishartened b