Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu received a warm welcome during his surprise visit to Oman in late October.
What made this visit even more interesting was that the two sides did nothing to conceal the news of the visit and the top level meetings in Muscat.
Netanyahu was officially invited to go to Muscat where Sultan Qaboos bin Sai’d welcomed him. During the visit, Netanyahu was accompanied by a high-ranking delegation including the Israeli intelligence chief and several other civilian and military officials. An entourage that was indicative of broad talks in Oman about a variety of issues.
The top level delegation accompanying Netanyahu could have also been an indication that the topics discussed in the meetings in Oman were not limited to peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. A topic like that could have been discussed just as well with Egypt or Jordan, particularly because Oman did not have diplomatic relations with Israel before this visit.
Oman was one of the countries that had protested against US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Yet one more interesting point about this visit was that it was followed by Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusef bin Alavi’s statement which recognized Israel “as state in this region,” and stressed that “the time has come for other countries to treat Israel like other countries.”
The visit and the ensuing statement can have two meanings. One, Oman is normalizing its ties with Israel without any preconditions; and two, Oman is suggesting that “other countries” should normalize their relations with Israel and “recognize” it.
The question is: Which countries? Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, or another country?
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have already made it known that they maintain relations with Israel. Kuwait is the only Persian Gulf state that has no relations whatsoever with Israel. So, Kuwait can be one of those “other countries” in the same way that Iran could have been one of them.
Oman’s good ties with Iran and its role in mediation between Tehran and Washington during the past four decades, particularly in the process of nuclear talks, could have been an indication that Muscat was calling on Iran to recognize Israel.
Is this an unlikely suggestion? Then how likely was it for Iran to sit at the negotiating table with the “Great Satan” in 2013? It was unlikely, but it was made possible thanks to Oman’s mediation.
Iran and Israel have come to the verge of a military confrontation in Syria. It is now clear that Israel sends messages to Tehran via Moscow. Muscat can also be a channel for messaging between Iran and Israel.
Tehran’s unusually mild reaction to the improvement of ties between Israel and Oman, which was conveyed via the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman and a tweet by a low-key parliamentary official, could have been an indication that the Islamic Republic is no longer too “sensitive” to normalization of other countries’ ties with Israel, a country Iran often referred to as a “cancerous tumour” in the region.
This mild reaction is nothing to be compared with four decades ago, when Iran cut it ties with Cairo as soon as it recognized Israel.
Iran is still officially denying the existence of Israel, but a subtle change can be seen if we consider how it reacted to Netanyahu’s visit to Oman.