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February 23, 2023 4:16 pm

‘Rejectionism is Starting to Recede’: Oman Opens Airspace to Israel and Plays Mediator to Iran in Nuclear Talks


avatar by Andrew Bernard

Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (not pictured) at al-Alam palace in Muscat, Oman February 21, 2020. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday announced that Oman would open its airspace to Israeli planes for the first time in the latest step towards normalization between Israel and the Arab states.

“This is a historic decision that will shorten the flying time to Asia, lower costs for Israeli citizens and help Israeli airlines to be more competitive,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said in a statement. “I thank the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tarik, and our American friends for their substantial help in the success of the move.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that the announcement was the result of months of talks between Oman and Israel and follows the 2022 opening of Saudi Arabia’s airspace to Israeli overflights. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Oman in 2018 during his previous premiership in a rare visit by the leader of Israel to an Arab state with which it does not have formal relations.

“This is a positive sign that the default rejectionism is starting to recede across the region,” American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Michael Rubin told The Algemeiner.

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While the announcement comes amid a spike in violence in the West Bank, the Palestinian issue has not entirely receded from the calculus of Arab states in dealing with Israel.

“Certainly, many Arab states want to move on and not allow the Palestinian issue to hold development of ties hostage,” Rubin said. “That doesn’t mean Muscat has stopped caring about the Palestinians, however, or will cease pushing for them diplomatically.”

Sometimes referred to as the “Switzerland of the Middle East” for its relative neutrality in regional conflicts, the Sultan of Oman is also preparing a trip to Iran to revive nuclear talks. Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported Tuesday that Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq would mediate between Iran and the US and facilitate the exchange of letters between officials of the two countries. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the Iran nuclear deal – was “on the backburner” because Iran is not “engaged in a meaningful way.” State Department spokesman Ned Price on Wednesday reiterated that a return to the deal was “not on the agenda,” but Biden administration officials have pointedly refused to say publicly that the talks are dead.

“Biden hasn’t given up,” Rubin said. “He just wants to negotiate outside the glare of those who might question his wisdom. So long as [US Special Envoy to Iran Robert] Malley has a job, then everyone in the region is going to interpret Biden as willing to do whatever it takes to get Khamenei’s signature on a piece of paper to declare peace in our time.”

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