The death of Qaboos bin Said, the sultan of Oman, last week marked the departure of Iran’s closest ally in the Persian Gulf, whose mediation with the United States had recently been critical for Iranian diplomacy. As tensions between Tehran and Washington reach a new high following the U.S. assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani, the sultan’s passing could not have come at a more critical time.
There’s good reason, in fact, to wonder whether the special relationship between Oman and Iran will even survive Qaboos’s death. In an important sense, it is a relationship forged in the sultan’s personal history with Tehran—specifically, the Iranian intervention in Oman’s civil war, which helped established Qaboos’s reign. That forgotten history, however, also sheds light on why ties between Iran and Oman remain firmly rooted. Although Qaboos is gone, his regime survives—and that regime is impossible to understand outside Iran’s support at its time of greatest need.