London — Ayatollah Khomeini's radical allies in the Middle East -- led by the Palestine Liberation Organization -- are walking away from him. Shunned by his Arab neighbors and beseiged from within by armed legions of opponents, Khomeini's fundamentalist regime stands more isolated than ever.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), once at the center of Iran's ruling counsels and the trainer of many of its armed revolutionaries, is among the latest to begin to distance itself from the mullahs in Tehran.
In France two weeks ago, an Arab visitor called at the secluded house outside Paris that former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr is sharing with Massoud Rajavi, leader of the Mujahideen-e Khalq guerrillas, the two most prominent of Khomeini's many enemies.
The Arab visitor was Hani Hassan, political adviser to Yasser Arafat and former PLO representative in Tehran. Hani Hassan was quickly escorted past the swarm of newsmen and police at the villa's gate and brought to Rajavi. Mujahideen sources interpreted Mr. Hassan's surprise visit -- and his invitation for Rajavi to meet with Yasser Arafat sometime soon in Beirut -- as a clear sign that the PLO had finally sided against Khomeini.
After the Shah was toppled, relations between the new revolutionary regime and the PLO began smoothly enough. Khomeini promised the PLO large sums from Iran's oil revenues and plenty of arms to fight Israel. The PLO delegation in Tehran, ironically enough, were quartered free of charge in the old Israeli Embassy. And Hani Hassan was the only non-Iranian allowed inside the Revolutionary Council's top-secret sessions.
But then came the American hostage crisis. Several days after militant students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, Arafat approached Khomeini and offered to help secure the hostages' freedom. Khomeini rebuffed him. Arafat was reportedly enraged; Khomeini's refusal had cost the PLO a valuable opportunity to force the Carter administration into direct talks with the Palestinians.
The rift widened over the Gulf war. Again Ayatollah Khomeini rejected a PLO initiative, this time an attempted mediation to end the fighting between Iran and Iraq. The PLO mission was one of a dozen failed attempts, and the conflict between the two Muslim neighbors now drags into a second year.
Meanwhile, in faction-torn Beirut, the PLO has often found itself fighting for possession of the city districts controlled by the "Amal" militia of Lebanon's Shiite Muslims, who follow Khomeini's bidding.
Hani Hassan's talks with the Mujahideen rang alarm bells in Tehran. The Palestinian's visit prompted Iranian authorities, according to news reports, to arrest two of Khomeini's Palestinian bodyguards for allegedly plotting to kill the frail revolutionary leader.
Another worrying factor for the Ayatollah is that PLO guerrilas helped to train and set up the Iranian regime's paramilitary Revolutionary Guards and the komiteh vigilante committees. After Mujahideen infiltrated the Revolutionary Guards around the prime minister's office in August and planted the bomb killing the president and prime minister, fundamentalist authorities are concerned that a break with the PLO might undermine their already weak hold on the security services.
The PLO is not alone in quietly allying itself with the Iranian opposition. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait all fear that Khomeini's fiery fundamentalism might spread across the oilfields and incite their own large Shiite communities. Bani-Sadr and Rajavi have been careful to assure these Gulf rulers that once Khomeini's theocratic rule finishes, all plans to export the Islamic revolution to the neighboring countries will cease immediately.
Even Syria and Libya, Iran's staunchest backers in the Arab world, recently denounced the Tehran regime after reports that Iran was buying military equipment from Israel.