Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a rare and unpublicized visit to the Gulf state of Oman on October 26, where he held talks with Sultan Qaboos on the Middle East peace initiative. The trip marks the first such visit by an Israeli prime minister in 22 years.
Mr. Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying that the visit was a significant step towards strengthening security, technological and trade relations between Israel and moderate Arab states. After returning to Journalism, the prime minister tweeted that he and his wife had visited Muscat on an invitation from Sultan Qaboos.
A large delegation of the senior Israeli government and military officials accompanied Netanyahu in this visit including Ben-Shabbat, the head of the National Security Council Meir, Yuval Rotem, the director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Yossi Cohen, the director of the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operation, better known as Mossad.
Speaking at a security summit in Bahrain on October 27, the sultanate’s minister responsible for foreign affairs, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, said: “Israel is a state present in the region, and we all understand this. The world is also aware of this fact.”
Iranian officials have, however, been quick to criticize Oman for normalizing relations with Israel. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, said: “Muslim countries should not bend to pressures from the White House and allow the oppressive Zionist regime to create new problems in the region. The regime is undoubtedly trying to create divisions among Muslim nations.”
Mr. Ghasemi added: “The Zionist lobby in the White House and the U.S. government has broadened its sphere of influence since Mr. Trump took office. There is massive pressure on Muslim countries to normalize ties with the arch-enemy of the Muslims. Experience has shown that complying with the illegitimate demands of America and the oppressive Zionist regime would only embolden them to further violate the human rights of the Palestinians and the Muslims in the region.”
Oman has been providing a diplomatic back channel between Tehran and Washington in recent years through which the two capitals have reportedly been exchanging messages. Muscat also played a crucial role in enabling Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to invoke the face-saving “heroic flexibility” to justify the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as Iran nuclear deal.
Two days before Netanyahu’s visit to Muscat, Omani Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Awadh Al Hassan traveled to Tehran where he held talks with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Also, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab-African Affairs Hossein Jaberi Ansari had traveled to Muscat on October 16 for talks with Foreign Minister bin Abdullah.
In an interview with mojnews.com on October 26, Javad Karimi-Ghodousi, a member of the Majlis’ (Iranian Parliament) Committee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, and a staunch critic of President Hassan Rouhani’s government, said: “We’ve heard from reliable sources that senior officials at the Omani Foreign Ministry have held talks with their American counterparts. We can also confirm that regional experts from Iranian Foreign Ministry are holding talks with their U.S. counterparts in Oman to keep the line of communications open with the Trump administration.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry released a statement on October 27 rebuking Mr. Karimi-Ghodousi. It said: “We categorically deny claims by Mr. Karimi-Ghodousi regarding efforts to meet and engage in talks with the U.S. officials in a neighboring country. It is unfortunate that a representative of the people to the Majlis should resort to such vicious tactics to further his political agenda. The Foreign Ministry protects the country’s interest. The ministry strongly believes that any effort to open a communication channel with the Trump administration would be a complete waste of time under the current circumstances.”
Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi