What prompted the Sultanate of Oman to receive the Israeli Prime Minister at this particular time?
Three hypotheses were developed in response to this question and as an attempt to explain the unusual Omani move, unfamiliar with Oman’s foreign policy.
First, the strongest and least promoted hypothesis is that the Sultanate is embarking on new mediation between the United States and Iran as an extension of its first mediation during the Obama administration. This paved the way for the nuclear agreement between Tehran and the 5 + 1 group. Those who came up with this hypothesis believe that Oman may have taken the initiative on its own, or by request by one of the sides -either Washington or Tehran. Since it is aware that the Israeli complex is the major “monkey wrench” in the relationship, it took the initiative or was asked to overcome this complex, and Oman’s response was to ask the Israeli Prime Minister to visit Muscat.
Those who believe this point of view recall the Iranian Foreign Minister’s statement to Japan’s Kyodo News Agency when he announced his country’s readiness to resume negotiations with Washington without preconditions and by mutual respect. Here, it can be said that “a force in Iran”, not all of the forces, may have decided to respond to Trump’s invitation to engage in new negotiations over a new nuclear deal, and found the Omani channel to be a means to explore the situation and make indirect contact with Washington and Israel separately. They believe that this explains the balanced and moderate reaction of the Iranian foreign ministry regarding Netanyahu’s visit, as opposed to the brutal campaign against both the visit and Oman, waged by the revolutionary and conservative forces in Iran, which was echoed in Lebanon.
The same people recall Trump’s repeated statements regarding the fate of the Iranian crisis being determined on the negotiating table, but on conditions that are unfavourable to Iran, and that he is certain the Iranians will return to negotiations with Washington on a “new comprehensive deal”. America and Iran are the arenas familiar to Iranian diplomacy and which it has experience in.
The second hypothesis is the most promoted, and it assumes that Oman wanted to make efforts to mediate between the Palestinians on the one hand and Israel and the United States on the other hand. The advocates of this hypothesis link Netanyahu’s visit to Abbas’s visit to Muscat, which was shortly before Netanyahu’s and lasted three days. It is noteworthy that in an interview with the Palestinian television station in the Omani capital, Abbas made a remark that couldn’t be understood until after Netanyahu’s visit was revealed. He said that Oman had good intentions and sowing good faith in everything is says and done. It was as if the man was informed of the visit and his statement acted as a Palestinian reaction to the event before it occurred.
Those supporting this assumption do not rule out the fact that Abbas may have requested Oman’s intervention to resolve the conflict between himself and Israel in Gaza and around it, especially with the truce negotiations coming to an end, according to sources close to the Egyptian mediator. Abbas is afraid a truce will be reached before reconciliation, and he seems uncomfortable with Egypt’s performance, as he is suspicious of Qatar’s support for Hamas and the plan of a truce first. There are no other Arab capitals that can be resorted to strengthen his position on reconciliation before the truce.
If this assumption is correct, Oman will pay a heavy price for the risk of betting on Netanyahu in the form of its reputation and image. The man is a liar and cannot be trusted. He hates Palestinians and peace, and he has never been known to keep a promise or word. His visit to Oman will be a free step that will not benefit the Palestinians or the Omanis, and Netanyahu will be the only winner in this risk.
Those supporting the third hypothesis believe that Oman is in a difficult geopolitical situation with the war in Yemen almost completing its fourth year and the lukewarm relations between Oman and the surrounding influential Gulf countries. They believe that its openness to Iran will strengthen its status in the eyes of the US and will thereby strengthen the safety net that surrounds it.
This hypothesis is not entirely likely in light of the developments over the past three weeks, especially after the Khashoggi incident. In the past four years, Oman has experienced more difficult, more complex and threatening circumstances, so why would it do this now, while its opponents are in a more difficult situation than before, both in Yemen and regarding their relations with the international community.
In my opinion, the repercussions of Netanyahu’s visit will not end soon, and Oman will pay the price from its status and credit, which it has built over the years, unless it has an initiative amounting to the risk in its arsenal, either in Palestine, Iran, or both.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 29 October 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.