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Israel's leaders visit Oman's leaders to improve relations

TEL AVIV Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to meet the Oman ruler this week to discuss…

TEL AVIV Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to meet the Oman ruler this week to discuss regional issues, the first official summit between leaders and a sign of improving relations between Israel and the Arab Gulf.

Mr. Netanyahu returned from Oman on Friday afternoon after meeting Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, the Israeli leader’s office said in a statement. He was accompanied by his wife, Sara, and several leading Israeli officials, including the head of the country’s spying agency, Yossi Cohen. A brief statement from Oman said the meeting between the two leaders took place on Thursday.

Israel has no formal diplomatic relations with Oman or its Arab Gulf. But to increase relations, especially on the basis of a common interest in countering regional rival Iran, has been a priority for Netanyahu as prime minister. Israel shares some intelligence information with the Arab Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and U.A.E., according to current and former US and Israeli officials. But the cooperation has been silent absent a resolution to the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office said the visit is an important step towards its goal “to deepen relations with the states in the region, while exploiting Israel’s security, technology and economic benefits.”

“This is one of the signs of the tectonic displacement in the Middle East where Israel is on the same side of many moderate Arab countries willing to cooperate and face security challenges together,” said Lior Weintraub, former chief of staff of the Israeli Embassy in Washington and now Vice President of Israel Project.

 Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said Al Said, right and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, looks at a map at Oman.

Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said Al Said, right and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks at a map during his meeting in Oman.


Photo:

Israeli prime minister office ha / Shutterstock

Oman has long served as a bridge between the countries of the region, including as a back channel between the United States and Iran prior to talks that led to the nuclear agreement in 2015.

Israel released several images of the visit, including two men shaking hands, sitting side by side in an ornate meeting room and looking at a map of the region together. Omani state television showed clips by Mr. Netanyahu and his wife who arrived at a Omani royal palace in the capital Muscat, and the two were greeted with handshakes by the Sultan and a large number of officials at the residence.

Mr. Netanyahu and Sultan Qaboos discussed peace and regional stability in the Middle East, said the Israeli leader’s office. He visited Oman at the invitation of the sultan, after which Israeli officials said there were long discussions between the two sides.

Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Oman comes after the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas, who previously visited Oman at Sultan Qaboo’s request, according to the Palestinian News Agency.

The visit is a sign of warming ties between Israel and Oman, as well as a broader detent in the region, but Saudi Arabia and Jordan are seen as more influential with the Palestinians in pushing sides closer to each other in peace talks.

Jason Greenblatt, the Trump Administration’s Special Envoy for Negotiations and part of its Middle East Peace Plan, is expected to visit Israel next week for consultation.

Following the signing of the Oslo agreements in 1993, there was a first improvement in relations between Israel and its Arab Gulf neighbors. Shimon Peres was the last Israeli leader to visit Oman in 1996 after the countries signed an agreement to open trading offices in each other’s countries. But Oman closed its office in Israel in 2000 in the wake of the second intifada, or the Palestinian insurgency.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at [email protected]

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