Last week a Russian-built Ilyushin transport plane with Alia (Royal Jordanian) markings landed at the small, seaside Larnaca airport in Cyprus. Then on Saturday, behind an airport security cordon, an interesting transaction took place. Four French-built Mirage F-1 fighter planes taxied in and were handed over to pilots who had arrived in the Ilyushin.The planes then were flown east, toward the Asian mainland.
But Jordan is not believed to own any Ilyushin transports.Nor has it ordered up any Mirage jets. However, Jordan's close ally, Iraq, has Illyushins because of past Soviet supply ties. It also has a three-year-old back order for 50 Mirage F- 1s.
[French radio reports said Jordanian pilots had taken charge of the four Mirages on Cyprus to fly them to Jordan.]
What appears to have been happening testifies to Iraqi need, French supply, and Jordanian facilitation. The deal could have taken place only with proper intentional ties on Iraq's part. It is something Iraq probably could not duplicate because of the alienation of Ayatollah Khomeini's nation from its former partners.
The F-1, Mideast military analysts say, is a modern, high- performance aircraft, which, depending on how it is outfitted, could surpass the capabilities of the Soviet MIGs 21 and 23 that Iraq now flies -- and exceed the capabilities of the American-made F-4 Phantom, which Iran flies.
One analyst says the introduction of the Mirages could make a noticeable difference in the 20-week-old Gulf war. France admitted Feb. 1 was going ahead with the plane deliveries and said six more F-1s were on the way immediately, along with other weapons.
Defense officials in Paris have been tight-lipped about the affair. France receives 25 percent of its oil from Iraq and has been processing the Iraqi jet order since 1977. Like other powers, however, France must walk a tightrope between aiding one side and angering the other in the Iran-Iraq war. While France recently lifted a ban on sales to Iran (except for food and medicine), it is not selling weapons to that country.
But Jordan has made no secret of its unstinting support for Iraq. The Alia cover was one of the tamer forms of aid from King Hussein's Hashemite Kingdom since the fighting started.
On Feb. 1, angered over Jordanian support for Iraq and probably aware of the Mirage deal through news reports, Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai announced that Iran was breaking off diplomatic ties with Jordan and Morocco, because, said Pars news agency, "of the countries' full support for the Iraqi regime and their enmity to the Islamic revolution of Iran."
Thus has Iran drawn further into its shell of revolution. And thus has the Gulf was further polarized the Middle East.
Even the Islamic summit conference last week -- where foes were supposed to come together as followers, at least, of Muhammad's ideology -- aggravated the Mideast schism. Iraqi strong man Saddam Hussein used the summit to deliver a 90 -minute oration against absent Iran. And Iran is now convinced that a conspiracy against it was hatched at the conference.
Pars news agency quoted sources as saying a plan had been drawn up at the summit to promote Sunni Muslim insurgency in predominantly Shia Iran.
"It looks like another Iranian effort to cast blame on an ill- defined foe," says a Western Mideast watcher. "They seem to go from one big lie to the next, geared to finding another enemy on the outside."
With the American hostages now gone, Tehran apparently has all but written off the "Great Satan" America. Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr told an audience in Jiroft over the weekend that he never expected American military aid and intended to fight on without it. He was responding to US Secretary of State Alexander Haig's assertion that the US would not supply arms to Iran as part of the hostage agreement.
But the further isolation of Iran and the polarization in the Mideast does not necessarily mean that "conservative" Arab states are jumping into the arms of the United States. Pro- Western Saudi Arabia, which had urdged a figurative holy war (jihad) against Israel during the summit conference, recently aired its disagreement with President Reagan over his opening moves pertaining to the Middle East.
The Saudis asked the Reagan administration to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization and the right of Palestinians to "self-determination." The US answered back that only United Nations Resolution 242 and "what has already been achieved" (meaning Camp David) could serve as the basis for Mideast peace.