After years of spurning American entreaties for closer military ties, the Persian Gulf Arab states around Kuwait, in an unprecedented display of cooperation, are opening their ports, airfields and other facilities to help in case the United States' naval escort of Kuwaiti oil tankers brings on armed confrontation with Iran.

The shift in attitude among the six kingdoms and sheikdoms of the Saudi-led Arab Gulf Cooperation Council has raised hopes among U.S. military strategists that the Arab leaders may agree to convert temporary U.S. access to their facilities into more permanent arrangements, possibly including a shore site for the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), now carried aboard a ship.

The command, set up in 1983, is the successor to the Rapid Deployment Force created to protect U.S. vital interests in the gulf in the wake of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Despite persistent efforts, U.S. officials have never persuaded any Arab gulf state to host CENTCOM headquarters or provide it with any bases.

Plans for the U.S. naval escort mission include several unusual instances of cooperation, such as agreement for the first time for the United States and Saudi Arabia to jointly man Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance aircraft outside the Saudi kingdom. Moreover, the operation will take place over the territory of the United Arab Emirates, up to now the most reluctant of the Arab gulf nations to publicly associate itself with Washington.

Kuwait, long the prime advocate of keeping U.S. military forces out of the gulf, has actually spearheaded the campaign to bring the Americans in, promising all kinds of backup assistance in return for U.S. protection of its tankers.

The six council members -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the Emirates -- are engaging for the first time in bilateral "worst case" contingency planning with U.S. officials in case Iran attacks American warships or the reflagged Kuwaiti tankers.

While much of this planning is secret, Arab gulf leaders have assured recent congressional visitors that, in an emergency for the U.S. escorting warships, they will extend even more help, such as additional access to their airfields and ports, than they have publicly indicated so far.

Except for Oman's Sultan Qaboos, such close cooperation with the United States has previously been judged politically too risky by Arab gulf leaders. They feel highly vulnerable to Iranian threats of retaliation and equally uncertain of the benefits of any stronger "American connection."

The new military cooperation emerging between Washington and the six gulf Arab nations is so far restricted, however, to specific U.S. needs in protecting the U.S.-flagged Kuwaiti oil tankers.

Both U.S. and Arab analysts are warning that in the aftermath of the Lebanon fiasco and secret U.S. arms shipments to Iran, any other display of U.S. unreliability could prove fatal to hopes of sustained closer cooperation in the future. The Arab gulf states are reportedly still very wary of the new U.S. commitment.

"It's very clear the United States is still not prepared to regard Iran as the threat it is for Kuwait and the gulf," said Mazher A. Hameed, a Saudi defense analyst. "There is uncertainty about U.S. policy toward Iran for the gulf Arab states."

These states are also worried that President Reagan will announce "a strategic withdrawal" of U.S. warships from the gulf if the going gets tough, just as he declared in February 1984 a strategic "redeployment" of U.S. Marines in Beirut back to their ships in the Mediterranean, Hameed said.

Hameed added that Arab gulf leaders are asking themselves what Reagan will do if American lives are lost and the White House once again cannot stand "the political heat in Washington."

Still, the new military ties being woven between the Pentagon and the gulf Arab council hold out the possibility of long-term military cooperation that could prove a boon for CENTCOM's fortunes, according to U.S. analysts.

One of CENTCOM's major weaknesses since its inception has been lack of access to local ports and airfields, with only tiny Oman at the mouth of the gulf willing to sign even a limited access agreement and allow U.S. war materiel to be stockpiled on its soil.

The Pentagon has seized upon Kuwait's request for reflagging its tankers to press for greater access to local facilities, as well as a more open declaration of gulf Arab support for the U.S. military buildup.

Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger told Congress on June 15 that, "It is important . . . for {European} allies and regional {Arab} states to lend strong public endorsement for the U.S. operations and {make} cooperation with us more visible.

Undersecretary of State Michael H. Aramacost told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 16 that the administration might need support in addition to the already "considerable assistance" being extended to the United States by the Arab gulf states.

The United States has sold billions of dollars of arms, training programs and construction projects to the gulf Arab states, principally Saudi Arabia, which spent $55 billion between 1974 and 1986 under the U.S. foreign military sales program. Members of Congress have questioned what benefits the United States has derived from this investment in terms of security cooperation from its gulf Arab allies.

But some U.S. analysts are concerned the administration, under Pentagon pressure, will press too hard to obtain permanent access to the facilities. This, they warn, could create other problems..

Thomas L. McNaugher, the Brookings Institution's top military specialist on the gulf region, warned that such bases will serve only as "lightning rods" for political trouble later and should not be sought now.

While none of the six gulf Arab states has given formal basing rights to the United States, Saudi Arabia has allowed four U.S. AWACS aircraft to operate from its territory since 1980. In addition, Oman has permitted CENTCOM P3 Orion aircraft needed for Indian Ocean submarine surveillance to use an airbase on its Masirah Island, improved by the U.S. at a cost of $170 million..

The primary reason for the gulf Arab response to U.S. appeals for greater military cooperation is mounting concern about Iraq's prospects for holding out in what has become a long war of attrition with its much more populous and zealous neighbor, Iran.

Some U.S. analysts now share this concern. At a recent Brookings Institution conference on the gulf situation, McNaugher said he was not alone in believing that there are now "serious uncertainties about how long Iraq can keep this up."

Worries about the war's course have spurred the gulf Arab states to take these steps, administration and congressional sources say:Saudi Arabia: Has committed its own five newly acquired AWACS surveillance aircraft for setting up a second aerial orbit over the southern gulf that will be used to relay intelligence on Iranian military moves to U.S. warships escorting the 11 reflagged Kuwaiti tankers.

Saudi sources say Saudi crews are capable of manning two of the five AWACS planes, but mixed Saudi-U.S. crews will be needed if the other aircraft are required for the "southern orbit."

The sources said the southern cap will be flown only three or four times a week, or when a convoy of U.S.-escorted, reflagged Kuwaiti ships passes through the gulf. Once regular operations are established, convoys are expected every seven to 10 days.

The Saudis, who already provide air cover with their F15 fighters for U.S.-piloted AWACS aircraft flying the "northern oribt" covering the upper gulf from inside the kingdom, will also provide similar protection for the AWACS in the south.

The Saudis also have offered their four U.S.-made minesweepers to hunt for mines Iran may lay in the northern gulf to damage American warships or the U.S.-flagged Kuwaiti tankers.

Saudi ports, airfields and hospitals are expected to be made available in emergencies to U.S. ships and aircraft. Bahrain: Home port of the USS La Salle, flagship of the six-vessel U.S. Middle East Force stationed in the gulf, Bahrain has expanded harbor facilities in the city of Manama available under a lease arrangement to accommodate the additional three warships being sent to help carry out the escort mission.

The island republic has steadily expanded its military cooperation with CENTCOM over the past few years. CENTCOM Commander, Gen. George B. Crist, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in testimony Jan. 27 that Bahrain's support is now "crucial" to the U.S. ability to maintain a naval presence in the gulf.

Some U.S. military planners are hopeful that if the United States carries out its escort mission successfully and gains Arab confidence, Bahraini authorities will allow CENTCOM to move its forward headquarters, now on the La Salle, into facilities ashore in Manama.United Arab Emirates: In a major concession to the U.S., the federation of seven sheikdoms has agreed, reportedly under heavy Saudi pressure, to allow the U.S.-Saudi "southern orbit" AWACS to operate over its territory, despite likely Iranian ire.

It also has agreed to "overflights" of its territory by U.S. aircraft, apparently in case a U.S.-operated AWACS is used or U.S. aircraft go into action from carriers stationed just outside the gulf. Kuwait: In the region's most radical shift from a standoff policy, Kuwait, which once rarely allowed port visits from U.S. warships, now offers regular port access to U.S. escort warships and military protection to all U.S.-flagged ships within its territorial waters.

While Pentagon and other administration officials say they have not formally asked that U.S. aircraft be allowed to use Kuwaiti airfields because they are too close to the Iran-Iraq war zone, Kuwait has offered to let U.S. minesweeping helicopters operate from Kuwaiti air bases.

Kuawait will provide free oil to the U.S. warships escorting its reflagged tankers. Oman: The only gulf Arab state to have signed an access agreement with the United States as far back as 1980, Oman has agreed to increased use of its U.S.-upgraded ports and airfields by U.S. warships and aircraft supporting the escorts. Qatar: Smallest of the six Arab gulf nations, the tiny island sheikdom has never played any significant role in the Arab Gulf Council's defenses or been asked to provide any military support to CENTCOM or the U.S. Middle East Force. U.S. officials have given no indication Qatar will play any role in the escort plan.