Israeli leader makes shock visit to Oman

Netanyahu with Sultan Qaboos

In a move that is likely to provoke consternation throughout the Muslim world, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made an official visit to Oman where he met with Sultan Qaboos.

Netanyahu and his wife were invited to visit by the sultan after lengthy contacts between the two countries, Netanyahu’s office’s said in a statement. The Israeli leader flew to Oman on Thursday and spent the night there before returning to Israel.

The meeting was the first of its kind between leaders of the two countries since 1996.

Israel said the two sides discussed ways to achieve “peace and stability in the Middle East,” adding that “the prime minister’s visit is a significant step in implementing the policy outlined by Prime Minister Netanyahu on deepening relations with the states of the region while leveraging Israel’s advantages in security, technology and economic matters.”

Oman has no official diplomatic ties with Israel and the visit came days after an official visit to Oman by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

There are currently two theories behind the significance of the visit. One is that Gulf countries are simply becoming open about the behind-the-scenes contacts they’ve had with Israel for years. And the second is that Oman will act as a mediator for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, as it has acted as a mediator for other conflicts in the past.

In recent years, Netanyahu has insisted that relations between Israel and Gulf countries have been growing, despite none of the seven Gulf states officially recognising Israel.

“You should not underestimate the openness and the thirst in the Arab world today for Israel,” the Israeli prime minister said on Thursday.

A Wikileaks cable from 2010 reported that Gulf states believed they could “count on Israel against Iran.”

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