Oman is gaining an increasing significance in the Gulf region at a time when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is gradually losing its role and importance. In a pronounced change of roles in the region, during the recent summit in Kuwait, Riyadh was forced to remove its “Gulf Union” proposal from the agenda in response to Muscat’s opposition to the union.
Remarkably enough, the emerging role of Muscat in the Gulf region is also apparent as the UAE has sought to improve its relations with Oman, as well as with Iran, even though the relationship between the UAE and Oman had been tense over the past months, particularly because Oman’s security forces had caught a “spying cell” working for Abu Dhabi and arrested its members, who are all UAE nationals, before the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed, urgently intervened to calm down the officials in Muscat.
In the context of the UAE’s attempts to improve its relations with Oman, the Crown Prince made a surprise visit to Muscat on 24 December 2013, during which he met with Sultan Qaboos Bin Said and discussed several regional issues, reaching many agreements.
The visit of the Crown Prince to the Sultanate of Oman came less than one month after the visit of the UAE’s foreign minister, Abdullah Bin Zayed, to Iran, which took place on 28 November 2013. This visit came in the context of a UAE-Iranian convergence after Tehran’s agreement with the major world powers on its nuclear programme and the US’s rapprochement with Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani.
Days after signing the Iranian-Western agreement in Geneva, it was revealed that the US and Iran had been holding secret talks over the past months in the Omani capital Muscat. This development angered Saudi Arabia because the talks occurred without Riyadh’s knowledge.
An informed source in Abu Dhabi explained that the decision-making circles in the UAE have begun to feel that the balance of power in the region is changing, which means that betting on Saudi Arabia now means betting on a dead horse, especially considering that the Kingdom and its director of intelligence, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, failed to convince the Americans to attack Iran or to strike Syria. Prince Bandar also failed to persuade the Zionists to do the job, which has led to a significant decline in the Kingdom’s position in the Gulf region.
Moreover, the dominant feeling in Abu Dhabi now is that Saudi Arabia has also begun to lose the battle in Syria; although it still dominates the coalition, it has no presence or influence on the ground. This means that the Kingdom is neither able to remove Bashar Al-Assad’s regime nor win the loyalty of the existing armed opposition.
The source also pointed out that the idea of a “Gulf Union”, which was put forward by Saudi Arabia, was just another attempt by Riyadh to regain its control over the region, which has begun to slip away. While the State of Qatar has an independent policy that is incompatible with the Saudis, and Oman has recently adopted another independent policy that is closer to Iran’s and incompatible with the Kingdom’s agenda, Saudi Arabia is gradually losing its most important ally in the region: the UAE, which currently has nothing in common with the Kingdom except its support of the military coup in Egypt.