Bahrain is a small state among the oil-producing nations of the Gulf, but its views loom larger than its physical size.
This island nation, offshore banking center for the Gulf, is considered a weather vane for trends in the region, and this is one reason why its views are listened to. Its current message to the Reagan administration is this: If the Israelis attack Beirut, it will encourage radicalism and anti-American feeling throughout the Arab world.
Sheikh Muhammad bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, the foreign minister of Bahrain, here recently on a brief visit, has urged United States officials to take this message into account and to reassess American policy. He suggests that the US open direct talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and take steps to assure genuine self-determination for the Palestinians.
''The US should lead and not be led,'' said Sheikh Muhammad, declaring that until now US policy in the Middle East had been ''one-sided,'' thus allowing a ''free-hand to Israel.''
In an interview with the Monitor, the dapper, British-educated foreign minister said that if the US did not succeed in restraining the Israelis in Lebanon and in helping to bring genuine progress to the Palestinian issue, it would be the Soviet Union that would profit.
An attack on Beirut, he said, would have the following result: (1) radical forces would become stronger in the region, (2) moderate governments would be forced to take a stand against the United States, and (3) the Soviet Union ''would become the savior of the region.''
Sheikh Muhammad said that the Soviets, whose only foothold in the Gulf so far has been their mission in Kuwait, were constantly approaching other Gulf nations in an attempt to establish diplomatic and trade relations with them.
The Bahraini foreign minister indicated that the lack of a solution to the Palestinian problem might work to the advantage of the militant regime in Iran, which has offered to send volunteers to fight alongside the PLO in Lebanon. Bahrain considers Iran a threat to its own stability.
''Even Iran is playing the Palestinian card,'' said Sheikh Muhammad. ''We tell our friends 'Don't give them that card.' ''
He argued that if a Palestinian state were created in territories now occupied by Israel it would not be dominated by radicals, and rather than enhancing Soviet influence, it would reduce it.
''We believe that this state, if it is created, won't be run by radicals, because radicalism only grows where there is oppression, when a people is denied its rights, and when such a people is able to get support only from one side,'' said the foreign minister.
''If this conflict is contained, the Soviets will not have any influence at all in the Middle East as a whole,'' he said. ''They are gaining because there has been no solution.''
He said the Israelis would not be able to destroy the Palestinian nationalist movement through military action.
''The Palestinians are fighting for a homeland,'' the foreign minister said.
This is an historical moment for the United States,'' he continued. , ''The US ought to talk to Palestinian representives,'' he said referring to representatives of the PLO. ''It would make it easier to solve the problem. . . . Without that, we go continually into a vicious circle.''