Saudi-Omani tensions rising
MUSCAT - A rift is developing between Saudi Arabia and Oman over what Riyadh views as Muscat pivoting towards the Houthi rebels in their conflict with the Yemeni government, Yemeni sources said.
Oman, which enjoys good relations with the Houthis’ backer Iran, had remained neutral in the fight that began when Houthi rebels captured much of Yemen in 2015.
The sources said the Saudi-Omani tensions were apparent when the delegation negotiating on behalf of the Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party in Kuwait was prevented from travelling from Muscat to Sana’a.
The delegation, which included high-ranking Houthi leader Mohammed Abdulsalam and the GPC’s Aref Awad al-Zoka, had boarded a plane provided by the sultanate but was prevented from flying directly to Sana’a because the no-fly zone maintained by Riyadh requires all aircraft to land in the Saudi town of Jeddah for inspection and the identification of passengers.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Oman are a new issue. Saudi authorities were taken by surprise over news that, in late 2014, Oman brokered talks between the United States and Iran that eventually led to the nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.
In January, when a mob attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran over the execution of a radical Shia preacher whose followers were tied to a number of police killings, Oman did not sever or downgrade diplomatic ties with Iran.
Sources in Muscat confirm an investigation into the spreading of Shia ideas in Omani society, with as many as 500 recent converts to the Twelfth Imam Shia sect from the traditional Abadi and Maliki sects. The Twelfth Imam is the branch of Shia Islam that is Iran’s official religion.