Oman preparing for peace agreement with Israel

Iran’s dilemma is how to slam UAE and Bahrain but keep silent about Oman.
Monday 14/09/2020
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq in Muscat, Oman, August 27, 2020. (AP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq in Muscat, Oman, August 27, 2020. (AP)

MUSCAT – Arab diplomatic sources closely monitoring the situation in the Gulf said that the Sultanate of Oman’s welcoming attitude towards the Bahraini-Israeli peace agreement is an additional indication that it is next in line to fully normalising relations with Israel.

These sources indicated that the Sultanate of Oman has all the characteristics that could make it the fifth Arab country, after Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Bahrain, to make such a step.

They pointed out that the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said had played a crucial role in paving the way for his successor, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, to take the step of signing a peace deal with Israel, when he received Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Muscat in October 2018 with all the formal pomp and circumstances.

It was noteworthy that Netanyahu’s visit, the first of its kind by an Israeli official at this level to an Arab Gulf state, was met with the formality and protocol appropriate for visiting heads of state and dignitaries.

The Israeli Prime Minister was referred to in the Omani official media with the formal title of “His Excellency”.

A Gulf figure familiar with the situation in the Sultanate of Oman said that Sultan Qaboos revealed, when he received the Israeli Prime Minister about a year and three months before his death, that the Sultanate does not fear Iran’s reactions.

He pointed out that Iran did not say a word about Netanyahu’s visit to Muscat, which was a far cry from its reactions after the announcement of the US-sponsored peace agreements between the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Bahrain, on the one hand, and Israel, on the other.

Following the announcement of the Washington-brokered Emirati-Israeli agreement, Pompeo paid a visit to Sultan Haitham bin Tariq in Muscat.

Pompeo said that during his meeting with Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, he touched on the importance “of building unity within the Gulf Cooperation Council and building on the momentum to advance regional peace and prosperity.”

The Gulf figure believed that the Iranian reaction to Muscat receiving Netanyahu revealed the truth about the positions of the “Islamic Republic” that are premised on escalation while at the same time protecting its interests.

He said, in this regard, that Iran’s silence about Oman confirmed its inability to respond to any Omani move in any direction. This same inability also characterises its agents and proxies in the region. Lebanese Hezbollah, for example, has adhered to Iran’s stance and kept silent about the Sultanate.

Observers did not rule out that the Omani diplomacy under the leadership of the new foreign minister, Badr Al-Busaidi, would take a step back in the close relationship that has existed for many years between Oman and Iran, in light of growing questions about Oman’s benefits from this relationship.  At the same time, the benefits which Tehran has been reaping by being close to Oman were clear and obvious.  The least of such benefits was being able to maintain a connection with the outside world through Oman, create a breach in the Gulf’s unity and prevent the formation of a unified regional front against it.

In addition to such a major shift in Omani foreign policy, now comes the normalisation of Omani relations with Israel, following the step taken by the UAE and Bahrain and blessed by the Sultanate of Oman.

In that regard, Muscat does need to do anything more than make public the relations it had always maintained with Tel Aviv in secret. It has in fact already begun to do so in October 2018 with Netanyahu’s visit to Muscat.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said, just days after the announcement on August 13 of the Emirati-Israeli agreement, that the Sultanate of Oman might take the same step as well.

The Sultanate had welcomed the decisions of the UAE and Bahrain to normalise relations with Israel, but has not yet officially commented on its reported intention to do the same.

Omani state television said that “the country welcomes Bahrain’s initiative to normalise relations with Israel and hopes that this will contribute to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

The Omani public TV channel published on its Twitter account the government statement, which said, “The Sultanate welcomes the initiative taken by the sisterly Kingdom of Bahrain within the framework of its sovereign rights and the joint tripartite declaration regarding relations with Israel. The Sultanate hopes that this new strategic direction, chosen by some Arab countries, will be a practical tributary towards achieving peace based on ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and establishing an independent Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem.”

The Sultanate of Oman has always taken into account the special relationship it has with Iran but without allowing it to impose certain positions on it.

Arab circles monitoring the Gulf situation said that having a good relationship with Iran is a constant of Omani policy, regardless of the nature of the current regime in Tehran. In this regard, they pointed out that during the Shah’s reign, Iran, which shares with Oman control of the Strait of Hormuz, had dispatched military forces to Oman to help the Omani regime of the time put down a rebellion in the Dhofar region.

The close relationship between Oman and Iran continued even after the Shah was deposed and his regime replaced by the Islamic Republic.

It was thanks to this relationship that Muscat was able to play a crucial role in the West’s nuclear deal with Iran in the summer of 2015.