Netanyahu makes historic visit to Oman

Prime Minister Netanyahu returns from Oman, the first Israeli leader to visit the country since 1996.

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)
Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday made a surprise visit to Oman, an Arab Muslim state which has no diplomatic ties with Israel.
He did so at the invitation of the country’s leader Sultan Sayyid Qaboos bin Said Al Said, so that the two men could discuss regional issues. 
Netanyahu was in Oman, just two days after a Palestinian delegation led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Oman. Abbas also met with Sultan Qaboos.
The visit comes amidst the possible break through in Egyptian efforts to restore calm between Israel and Hamas over Gaza and the pending release of US President Donald Trump’s long waited peace plan.
The last such Israeli visit occurred in 1996, when former prime minister Shimon Peres, traveled to Oman to meet with the sultan and to open an Israel Trade Representation office, which was shut  four years later, after the start of the Second Intifada in October 2000. The economic ties never reached the level of full diplomatic relations.
Netanyahu has long argued that the Arab world is open to normalized economic ties with Israel, even in advance of any resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
After Friday’s visit the Prime Minister’s Office said, “Netanyahu's visit is a significant step in implementing the policy outlined by Prime Minister Netanyahu to strengthen ties with the countries of the region, while leveraging Israel's advantages in security, technology and the economy.”
Netanyahu and the Sultan 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 was joined on the trip by his wife Sara, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, National Security Adviser and National Security Council Director Meir Ben-Shabbat, Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem, the head of the Prime Minister's staff, Yoav Horowitz and the Prime Minister's Military Secretary, Brig.-Gen. Avi Bluth.
The media was informed of the trip only after it occurred. Netanyahu hinted at a new opening with the Arab world on Thursday when he spoke at the launch of the Israeli Innovation Center at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Tel Aviv.
“We always thought that if we solved the Palestinian problem it would open up the doors to peace with the broader Arab world. And that's certainly true if you could do it. But it may mean that equally true and perhaps even truer is that if you open up to the Arab world and you normalize relations with them it will open the door for an eventual reconciliation and peace with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said.
“We should do both but I think you should not underestimate the openness and the thirst in the Arab world today for Israel. And the reason, the first reason before anything else, is that we're there in innovation,” he said.
Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said the visit was a testament to declarations “about the good relations that are developing between the Israeli government and the Sunni countries that oppose the Iranian terror, which also threatens them.”
“In the coming days and until President Trump presents his diplomatic [peace] plan, there will be more pleasant surprises and embraces of Israel from the Gulf states."
Reuters contributed to this report.