The United States may have to pay a steep price in worsened relations with Arab states if it makes significant concessions to Iran for the hostages' freedom.
For example, the expected delivery to Iran of blocked US military supplies -- once the hostages reach safety -- could unleash intense anti-American reactions by iraq and its Arab supporters.
Even more crucial, say experts in Jordan and Israel with whom this reporter has consulted over the past two weeks, will be the attitude of Saudi Arabia -- Iraq's supporter but also a key Arab ally of the United States. But the Saudis' understanding of US electoral pressures, and their hopes that freeing the hostages may help re-elect President Carter, could soften their reaction, these experts believe.
Two radical Arab states likely to react less unfavorably are Syria and Libya. Both support iran in its war against Iraq. Col. Muammar Qaddafi of Libya, however, is locked in an exchange of insults with King Khalid of Saudi Arabia. Colonel Qaddafi claims that US radar surveillance planes and military operating personnel sent to bolster the Saudis and the US position in the Gulf are "desecrating" the Muslim holy places of Mecca and Medina.
Algeria has preserved a rather neutral stance between Iran and Iraq, enabling Algeria to play a critically important role behind the scenes as intermediary in US-Iranian moves to release the hostages.
One senior israeli analyst of Arab affairs in Jerusalem put it this way:
"Once Iran was enough spare parts and fresh equipment, from the US and elsewhere, she may try to take the offensive. The Iraqis say delivery of arms or spare parts will be a hostile act. You Americans are in for some difficult times with the Pro-Iraqi Arabs. And doubtless we'll be blamed, too, as always."
A high-ranking US administration official, after visiting Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors on the Gulf, takes a more sanguine view.
"Sending the four US Air Force AWACS [radar] planes to Saudi Arabia, and the other US defense moves in the area, has reassured everyone in the region," he says.
"Far from raising hostility to the US, this has made the Saudis and their neighbors breathe easier under an American umbrella."
Assurance that the US will protect the oil-producing region against aggression by the Soviets or Soviet surrogates, or iran or Iraq, this official believes, has at least temporarily eased Arab pressure on the US. That pressure has been for the US to act upon what Arabs consider their central problems: the Palestinians and Israeli-occupied territory, especially east Jerusalem.
Palestianians in the occupied territories are despondent ove the Iraq-Iran war. "It has diverted world attention again, just when we most needed it," said an Arab from east Jerusalem.
"Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force continues to kill our people and the Lebanese in Lebanon [referring to Israeli air strikes against Palestine Liberation Organization guerrilla areas.] And Israel prepares to annex the Syrian Golan Heights. Only Israel gains from the Gulf War."
Israeli political leaders, inside and outside the Begin government, show less enthusiasm for the Gulf was that do some Israeli political commentators, who appear pleased by the prospect of fresh arms deliveries to Iran. Such arms, it is believed, will help to keep the war going, and so exhaust two of israel's chief opponents.
Israel's opposition Labor Party fears the continued commitment of Jordan's King Hussein to the Iraqis may end Labor's hope of negotiating a peace settlement with Jordan, once Labor (as it hopes) wins the next Israeli elections , expected in 1981.