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December 10, 2018 8:17 am

The Oman-Israel-Palestinian Connection

avatar by Yoram Ettinger

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said, in this photo published on Oct. 26, 2018. Photo: Netanyahu’s Facebook account.

Oman’s unique geo-strategic location has led to China’s recent $10 billion dollar investment in an industrial park at Oman’s southern port of Duqm. Moreover, the Port of Rotterdam — the largest port in Europe — has played a key role in the impressive expansion of Oman’s Port of Sohar, located near the Strait of Hormuz, and one of the fastest growing ports in the world. Denmark’s Maersk, the largest shipping company in the world, has also played a major role in the development of Oman’s largest port, Salalah, which is situated near Yemen on the northern Indian Ocean.

Oman adheres to the moderate Ibadiyyah branch of Islam, and is ruled by the effective, but ailing, 78-year-old Sultan Qaboos, who is diversifying the economy, attracting foreign investment, and moderating internal tribal rivalries that could haunt the country upon his departure. Homeland security-driven attempts are also being made to reduce the number of foreign laborers in Oman; they now account for about 40 percent of Oman’s 4.8 million person population.

Oman is located at the strategically critical Strait of Hurmuz, which is the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean, and the route of 20 percent of the world’s petroleum. The country is sandwiched between Iran’s megalomaniacal ayatollahs (21 nautical miles apart), Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the volcanic Yemen, which is a major platform for Islamic terrorism and the site of the current proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The more volatile, unpredictable, unstable, and violent the Middle East is — and the closer the ayatollahs’ machete to the throats of the Persian Gulf Arab regimes — the closer that Oman and all other relatively-moderate Arab countries become to Israel. They consider Israel the most effective military and counter-terrorism “life insurance agent” in the region, as well as a source of groundbreaking experience in the areas of agriculture, irrigation, medicine, health, education, welfare, communal organization, etc.

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Irrespective of the Palestinian issue, Oman — just like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, and all other pro-US Arab countries — is preoccupied with domestic and regional threats and challenges that supersede the Palestinian issue; this provides tailwinds to enhanced national security, homeland security, and commercial ties with Israel.

According to a November 24, 2018 opinion article by Salman Aldosary, the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat — a leading Saudi daily that reflects the worldview of the House of Saud — the Saudis’ national security priorities are: confronting destabilizing elements (code name for Iran, ISIS, and the Muslim Brotherhood); solidifying strategic coordination against the ayatollahs with the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Mauritania; and consolidating a Saudi prominent role in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, and the G-20. No reference was made to the Palestinian issue.

The low regional priority of the Palestinian issue was also articulated on November 25 in an article about the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. According to the article, he listed the Middle East’s main problems as: “Saudi Arabia’s blockade of his family’s kingdom. Next were the bloody wars in Yemen and Syria, the chaos in Libya and the political unrest in Lebanon. … Missing was the Palestinian issue.

The article went on:

Al Thani wasn’t the only one to downgrade the Palestinian issue. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary General of the Arab League, also began his talk by listing possible reasons why the Middle East is still broken. [He said] the Palestinian issue was still one of the two problems haunting the region and that without a settlement, the turmoil in the region will continue … [but] listening to other representatives of Arab League member states who either ignored or downplayed the Palestinian issue, Gheit’s words sounded like lip-service.

Why don’t Arab states in general, and Persian Gulf Arab ones in particular, share the conventional Western high regard of the Palestinians? Persian Gulf Arabs do not forget, nor do they forgive, the PLO-led Palestinian betrayal of Kuwait, which was a most hospitable and generous host of some 400,000 Palestinians, all of them allies of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. In August 1990, the PLO participated in the planning and execution of Saddam Hussein’s invasion and plunder of Kuwait, which was consistent with the Palestinian subversion and terrorism in Egypt (mid-1950s), Syria (1966), Jordan (1970), and Lebanon (1970-1982). Hence, the expulsion of almost all Palestinians from Kuwait upon the liberation of the sheikdom by the US military.

The national security policy of Oman and the other Arab Gulf states has highlighted the fact that — contrary to Western conventional wisdom — realpolitik does not consider the Palestinian issue a core cause of Middle East turbulence, a crown jewel of Arab policy-makers, or the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A US-Israel Initiative.

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