Israel is renewing formal relations with Oman and plans to open a diplomatic mission in the Sultanate, Yossi Cohen, the head of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, has claimed.
Speaking at a conference yesterday in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, Cohen claimed that “just recently, renewal of formal relations with Oman was declared and the establishment of a representative office of the foreign ministry in that country”.
He added that the move “is only the visible tip of a much broader secret effort,” presumably referring to Israel’s efforts to normalise relations with Arab and Muslim states. Cohen claimed that though “we [Israel] do not yet have with [other Arab states] official peace treaties, […] there is already a communality of interests, broad cooperation and open channels of communication”.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on Cohen’s remarks, the Times of Israel reported. Likewise Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has long sought to emphasise Israel’s normalisation drive – has not commented on the renewal of ties.
Cohen also spoke of “a rare opportunity — perhaps the first in the history of the Middle East — to reach a regional understanding that would lead to an inclusive regional peace agreement”. He pointed to Israel and many Gulf states’ shared goal of countering Iranian influence in the region, and claimed with “certainty” that Iran was responsible for a number of recent attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Though the US and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of orchestrating the attacks, Iran has vehemently denied these claims. The UAE has also softened its accusations against Iran, claiming there is “insufficient information” to hold Iran accountable.
Cohen’s claims come less than a week after Oman announced that it would open a diplomatic mission to the Palestinians in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in a tweet that “in continuation of the Sultanate’s support for the Palestinian people, the Sultanate has decided to open a new diplomatic mission to the State of Palestine at the level of an embassy”.
The ministry also said that a delegation “will travel to Ramallah to initiate the opening of the embassy,” without providing further details or a timescale.
Oman’s announcement was made against the backdrop of last week’s “Peace to Prosperity” conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, during which the economic aspects of the long-awaited “deal of the century” were discussed. The majority of Gulf states attended the conference, despite the Palestinian factions’ appeal for Arab countries to boycott the summit.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has since arrested – and subsequently released – a Palestinian businessman who attended the conference, while the besieged Gaza Strip witnessed mass protests condemning Arab states’ participation in the summit. Other Arab countries, including Morocco and Iraq, also saw widespread protests.
Oman has come under scrutiny in the past for normalising relations with Israel.
In the 1990s, Israel and Oman agreed to open trade representative offices in their respective countries, but these were closed in 2000 after the outbreak of the Second Intifada.
In December 2018, Netanyahu made a landmark visit to the Sultanate and met with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos Bin Said. Netanyahu subsequently boasted that, during the meeting, Bin Said had granted permission for Israel’s flag carrier airline El Al to fly over Omani airspace.
“Therefore, only one small thing remains for us to do,” Netanyahu told journalists as he pointed to Saudi Arabia on a map. Without similar permission from the Saudis, Muscat’s promise was seen as worthless, as the Sultanate borders states with no diplomatic ties to Israel.
Oman’s Foreign Minister has since tried to downplay his country’s relations with Israel, in February reiterating the Sultanate’s commitment to the two-state solution and “a peaceful process to find a settlement for the Palestinian cause that guarantees their rights and the interests of all”.