Pahlavi, Mohammad Reza Shah°

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PAHLAVI, MOHAMMAD REZA SHAH ° (1919–1980), shah of *Iran. Mohammad Reza Shah, the eldest son of Reza Shah, was born in Teheran in 1919. He completed his primary school in Switzerland and returned to Iran in 1935. In Teheran he graduated from military school in 1938.

Mohammad Reza replaced his father on September 16, 1941, shortly before his 22nd birthday. At that time his country was occupied by Britain and the U.S.S.R., a situation which lasted until several months after the end of the World War ii. He increasingly involved himself in governmental affairs, relying mostly on manipulation rather than leadership. In the context of regional turmoil and the Cold War, the shah established himself as an indispensable ally of the West. With this foreign policy, he agreed to grant the State of Israel de facto recognition in March 1950, thus making Iran the second Muslim country after Turkey which recognized Israel de jure.

In 1953 he had severe problems with his prime minister, Mossadeq, and the shah was obliged to leave Iran. After three days of riots and demonstrations in Teheran, mostly organized by the cia, the shah returned home and began to rule with an iron hand, by creating the State Security and Intelligence Organization known as savak. Gradually all political parties were banned in Iran. In 1963 he decreed a vast daring social, economic, and cultural reform known as the "White Revolution" and thus clashed with Islamic authorities, among them Ayatollah *Khomeini. In December 1971 he held an extravagant celebration of 2,500 years of the Persian monarchy. Soon afterward he invaded three islands in the Persian Gulf and annexed them to Iran. In 1975 he founded a royal, artificially made political party by the name of Rastākhiz and urged all Iranians to join it. In 1976 he replaced the Islamic calendar with an "Imperial" calendar, which began with the foundation of the Persian empire more than 25 centuries earlier. These actions were viewed as anti-Islamic and resulted in religious opposition, and unrest among young liberal and leftist groups in Iran, whose active fight against the shah actually had begun in 1963 and turned to violent armed combat from 1971 on.

The shah's regime suppressed its opponents with the help of savak. Relying on oil revenues, which increased sharply in late 1973, the shah pursued his gigantic projects of developing Iran as a mighty regional power, while sidestepping democratic arrangements, refusing to allow meaningful civic and political liberties, and remaining unresponsive to public opinion. His socioeconomic changes benefited some classes at the expense of others, creating a gap between the ruling elite and the disaffected populace. Islamic leaders, especially Khomeini and his followers, took advantage of the situation by creating a sociopolitical ideology tied to Islamic principles. They openly called for the overthrow of the shah. The shah's government collapsed following widespread uprisings in 1978–79 and consequently the shah was forced to leave the country (January 16, 1979). Khomeini came back from exile to take over power in Iran (February 1, 1979). Thus an Islamic Republic succeeded the shah's regime.

After leaving Iran, the shah, who was suffering from advanced cancer, began wandering from one country to the next. Finally he was allowed treatment in New York City, which led to the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy in Teheran by "Students of Imam's Line," and the taking hostage of more than 50 Americans for 444 days. Mohammad Reza Shah died in Cairo, Egypt, on July 27, 1980.

Mohammad Reza's reign is considered the Golden Age of the Jewish community in Iran. The friendly relations between Iran and Israel contributed to the good feeling of Iranian Jewry. The amicable close relations with Israel began gradually to grow after the clash between the shah and his prime minister, Mossadeq, when the monarch needed U.S. assistance more than ever. He realized that the weight of the Jewish community in the U.S. might help him work out his socioeconomic plans and his desire to turn Iran into a regional power. Iran requested and received help from Israel in many fields: agriculture, military, intelligence, medicine, among others. The Israeli embassy in Teheran became one of the most active diplomatic institutions in Iran. These relations reached their peak in 1967 when Israel defeated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the *Six-Day War. However, a gradual deterioration in relations was felt after the *Yom Kippur War (October 1973) when the shah felt he could do without Israel, and, to some degree, without the U.S. if he would use his astronomic oil revenues. This political miscalculation turned out to be the beginning of the end for him.

According to unofficial statistics, there were between 100,000 to 120,000 Jews in Iran in 1948. About 10% of them were wealthy, more than 50,000 were regarded as poor, and the rest were reported as middle class. From 1948 to 1954, Israel absorbed almost all the poor in several waves of immigration. Iran's economic boom benefited the Jews enormously, especially after the mid-1960s and the gradual realization of the shah's projects related to his White Revolution.

On the eve of the "Islamic Revolution" (1978) there were about 80,000 Jews in Iran, constituting one-quarter of one percent of the general population. Of these Jews, 10% were very rich, the same percentage were poor (aided by the Joint Distribution Committee), and the rest were classified from middle class to wealthy. About 70 of the 4,000 academics teaching at Iran's universities were Jews. Jewish physicians, 600 in number, constituted 6% of all physicians. The 4,000 Jewish students studying in universities made up 4% of the total student population. Never in their history had the Jews of Iran attained such a degree of affluence, education, and professional status as they did in the last decade of the shah's regime. The emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran completely changed the picture.


E. Abrahamian, Iran Between the Two Revolutions (1982); P. Avery, Modern Iran (1965); U. Bialer, "The Iranian Connection in Israel's Foreign Policy," in: The Middle East Journal, 39 (Spring 1985), 292–315; R. Graham, Iran: The Illusion of Power (1979); F. Halliday, Iran: Dictatorship and Development (1979); Sh. Hillel, Ru'ah Qadim (1985); G. Lenczowski, Russia and the West in Iran, 19181948 (1949); idem, Iran under the Pahlavis (1978); A. Netzer, "Be'ayot ha-Integrazya ha-Tarbutit, ha-Ḥevratit ve-ha-Politit shel Yehudei Iran," in: Gesher, 25:1–2 (1979), 69–83; J. Nimrodi, Massa Ḥayay, 2 vols. (2003); Sh. Segev, Ha-Meshulash ha-Irani (1981); J. Upton, The History of Modern Iran: An Interpretation (1968).

[Amnon Netzer (2nd ed.)]