Regional realignment

Netanyahu’s visit to Oman comes the same week that Gen. Najmaddin Sadigov, the chief of staff in Azerbaijan, another neighbor of Iran’s, visited Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said al Said.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said al Said.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise and rare visit to Oman, an Arab country located at the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, and bordered by Saudi Arabia and Yemen and across the Gulf, by Iran.
The visit was historic and was the first time that an Israeli leader visited the wealthy Arab state since 1994, when then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin flew to Oman. Those were the days after the signing of the Oslo Accords when relations between Israel and the Arab world seemed to be on the rise. The two countries struck a deal to open trade offices but that changed after the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000 when Israeli-Omani ties seemingly went into hibernation.
Netanyahu’s visit on Friday – reportedly at the invitation of the country’s leader Sultan Sayyid Qaboos bin Said Al Said – shows that Israel and Oman never really cut off ties. It might also be proof of what Netanyahu has been claiming for the last few years – that the Arab countries in the region are changing and are no longer hinging their ties with Israel on progress on the derailed peace process with the Palestinians.
Instead, it seems, they are willing to engage directly with Israel even at a time like now when there are no direct contacts or talks between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Oman is not the only Arab country that Israel is reportedly talking to in the Middle East. Contacts have been reported between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and Israel and Bahrain, and of course between Israel and the countries it has made peace with – Jordan and Egypt.
For years, it seemed that the wider Middle East would not engage with Israel as long as the conflict continued with the Palestinians. The change has come as a result of three prevailing factors: A recognition that peace is not coming anytime soon; that coordination with Israel is important for countering Iranian influence and intervention in the region; and that due to Israel’s unique relationship with the United States, there could be a benefit in fostering stronger and warmer ties with the Jewish state.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the visit is a “significant step” in implementing the policy outlines by Netanyahu who strengthen economic ties with moderate Arab states, by leveraging Israel’s expertise in security, technology and the economy. The two leaders talked about “ways to advance the peace process in the Middle East and discussed a number of issues of mutual interest for peace and stability in the Middle East,” the PMO said.
Netanyahu’s visit to Oman comes the same week that Gen. Najmaddin Sadigov, the chief of staff in Azerbaijan, another neighbor of Iran’s, visited Israel.
In addition, IDF troops from the elite 669 search-and-rescue unit, crossed the border into Jordan to help in the efforts to rescue a bus full of schoolchildren that was swept away in a flash flood. Israel has diplomatic relations with Jordan but usually military coordination or cooperation is kept secret.
This week, it wasn’t.
The specifics of the visit to Oman remains under wraps but there is no hiding the fact that Israel is experiencing a diplomatic boon with a particular focus on its ties with other countries in the Middle East.
As civil war continues to ravage Syria, and Iran advances its efforts to undermine moderate Sunni states, Arab leaders are looking to Israel as a rock of stability in a volatile region.
For many of these countries, ties will not be made public until there is progress on the peace process with the Palestinians. But for others like Oman, this is no longer an obstacle. What is more important is ensuring that the region remains stable and secure in face of threats that are far greater than the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip.
Israel, under Netanyahu, has done an impressive job at discreetly advancing those ties. We are left to imagine what the region could look like if Israel was able to make progress with its Palestinian neighbors. For that, no one has to board a plane. The drive between Jerusalem and Ramallah is less than half-an-hour.


Tags Ramallah Oman