Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu Visits Oman, Hinting At Historic Thaw In Relations
Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu with Oman's Sultan Qaboos (Photo: Oman State TV)

There’s been a significant development in the geopolitical relations in the Middle East as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Gulf nation of Oman.

Netanyahu met Oman’s longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The visit is the first such gesture made by an Israeli leader in more than 20 years to the tiny Gulf state. He was accompanied by his wife, his national-security adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, and the head of the Mossad Tamir Padro.

"These were important talks, both for the state of Israel and very important talks for Israel's security," Netanyahu told his Cabinet following his visit. "There will be more."

Netanyahu’s visit will be followed by Israel's transportation minister, Yisrael Katz heading to the Gulf nation. He is scheduled to head to Oman next week for a transportation conference where he plans on presenting his plan for a rail link between Gulf Arab countries and Israel.

These developments in quick succession are sudden but have apparently been in the pipelines for long as Arab states are increasingly becoming open to overtures by Israel due to the increasing reach of Iran in the region. The visit to Oman is significant as Qaboos has often played the role of regional mediator.

Netanyahu’s visit also happened around the time that Israel’s Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev—one of the Netanyahu cabinet’s most vocal critics of the Palestinians—became the first senior Israeli official to visit Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

The visits by Netanyahu and his Likud Party ministers are a huge public relations boost because the situation with Palestinians has seemed more dire than in the past one year. The Gaza strip has seen almost weekly protests, rocket launches and retaliatory fire by Israeli troops which has claimed lives of hundreds of Palestinian youths.

It remains to be seen where the visit will take Israeli-Arab relations because there is a lot of unresolved baggage. According to Oman's Foreign Minister Yousef bin Alawi, the visit happened as Qaboos wanted Netanyahu to present his views on Mideast issues. “Israel is a state present in the region, and we all understand this. The world is also aware of this fact,” he added perhaps a point to underscore that fact that if there is to be peace in the region then Israel would have to agree to it. Bahrain’s foreign minister expressed support for Oman’s role in trying to catalyze Israeli-Palestinian peace, and his Saudi Arabian counterpart declared that the peace process was key to normalizing relations.

Oman has also been an old U.S. ally in the region and the Trump Administration’s overt support to Israel without addressing the Palestine issue must be a cause for concern. This could be Oman’s attempt at balancing the scale and the narrative.