Sultan of Oman, who warmed ties with Israel, dies at 79

The Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al-Said, passed away early on Saturday, according to Oman state TV and the state news agency's Twitter account.

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 Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Israel Katz mourned Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said who made history inviting Israeli leaders to his country.
“I send my condolences to the nation of Oman and share in the great sorrow of the loss of Sultan Qaboos bin Said,” Netanyahu said. “A year ago, he invited my wife and me to an important and exciting visit like no other, in which he offered his help to promote peace and stability in the region.”
Netanyahu said that Qaboos, 79, was a great leader who worked unceasingly for peace.
“Under his leadership, Oman became a central and leading country,” he added.
The prime minister congratulated the new sultan, Qaboos’ cousin Haitian bin Tariq al-Said, and for saying that Oman’s foreign policy and actions to promote regional peace will continue.
Qaboos invited Netanyahu to visit Oman, which does not have official diplomatic ties with Israel, last October. 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 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.
Katz, who visited Oman in 2018 to promote a railway plan called “Tracks for Middle East Peace,” also said he shares in the sorrow of the people of Oman.
“Qaboos’ leadership is an example and a model of someone who acted his whole life for his nation and for peace,” Katz stated. “The Sultan was a courageous leader and a man of peace and reconciliation who did much for his land and his nation and for security and stability in the whole region.”
Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah told Netanyahu that the “people of the Middle East have suffered a lot because they are stuck to the past” when the two men met in Warsaw in February.
“This is a new era for the future and for prosperity for every nation,” he told the Israeli leader.
Qaboos was one of the Middle East’s longest serving rulers who maintained the country’s neutrality in regional struggles.
With his death, the region loses a trusted and seasoned leader who managed to balance ties between two neighbors locked in a regional struggle, Saudi Arabia to the west and Iran to the north, as well as the United States. It was not clear how Oman’s role as mediator would continue as his successor establishes himself.
State media did not give a cause of death, but Qaboos had been unwell for years and underwent treatment in Belgium last month.
Oman declared three days of official mourning with flags to be flown at half-mast for 40 days for the Western-backed Qaboos, who had ruled since taking over in a bloodless coup in 1970 with the help of former colonial power Britain.
On Friday, Omani television broadcast images of the funeral procession driving down Sultan Qaboos street in the capital Muscat amid tight security, as Omanis thronged the palm tree-lined road, some reaching out their hands and others taking pictures.
Qaboos had no children and had not publicly appointed a successor. A 1996 statute says the ruling family must choose a successor within three days of the throne becoming vacant.
Haitham bin Tariq was chosen by a ruling family council that convened on Saturday. It opened a sealed envelope in which Qaboos had secretly written his recommendation in case the family could not agree, and opted to follow his “wise” guidance.
The new sultan had served as minister of national heritage and culture and had been appointed in 2013 by Qaboos to chair the main committee responsible for Oman’s development.
“The swift appointment of a successor is positive, as the lack of clarity was a key economic uncertainty,” said Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank chief economist Monica Malik.
Haitham takes power as domestic challenges loom large, from strained state finances to high unemployment in the indebted oil producer, and at a time of heightened tension between Iran and both the United States and its ally Saudi Arabia.
“The wild card is whether any of Oman’s neighbors might try to pressure the new sultan as he settles into power,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen of Texas-based Rice University’s Baker Institute told Reuters.
Condolences started pouring in for the white-bearded Qaboos.
The leaders of Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates praised what they described as his wise rule. Former US president George W. Bush said in a statement that Qaboos had been a stable force in the Middle East.
Oman maintains friendly ties with Washington and Tehran and helped mediate secret US-Iran talks in 2013 that led two years later to the international nuclear pact, which Washington quit in 2018.