In absolute secrecy, Israel planned a visit to the Arab Gulf state of Oman. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and the director of Mossad, Israel’s CIA, were key members of the delegation. This was anything but a courtesy visit.
Barely 48 hours before Netanyahu arrived, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was formally received in Oman. He left before the Israeli leader arrived.
While we do not yet know what the Jewish and Arab leaders discussed, we have some strong hints, drawn from recent and distant history.
Perched atop the mouth of the strategically vital Persian Gulf, the Sultanate of Oman has a very special diplomatic history. It has long enjoyed a cordial diplomatic relationship with Iran, which it called upon to quash a Maoist guerrilla movement in the 1970s. Today the Islamic republic of Iran is building nuclear warheads and the long-range Shihab missiles to carry them. Iran’s leaders have led large crowds in chanting “death to Israel.” There is little doubt where it would it aim its nuclear-tipped missiles when they are ready to fly.
After the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, it took great diplomatic skill to maintain relations with Tehran along with its rivals in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and America.
Given this unique history, President Obama chose Oman to act as an intermediary in its 2013 nuclear deal with Iran — a deal that included shipping bales of Swiss francs valued at hundreds of millions of dollars to the mullahs of Iran. With Oman’s diplomats, the deal would have fallen apart many different times. President Trump has since renounced the deal and plans to re-impose sanctions of Iran in November.
Oman also played a role in freeing U.S. hostages in Afghanistan.
After the Israeli prime minister's visit, Oman’s Sultan Qaboos said, "We are not trying to play a role of intermediary between Israelis and Palestinians. If we can facilitate contacts, we will do so. Our aim being the resolution of this conflict." What do these cryptic words actually mean?
Oman, like most Arab countries, closed its Israeli liaison office in 2000 after the second Intifada. But Oman has been careful never to publicly criticize the Hebrew state, keeping its options open.
Netanyahu's visit appears to have several strategic dimensions. If several Arab countries have secret relations with Israel, as part of an alliance against Iran, this is the first time that an Arab gulf country, one without any enmity toward Tehran, accepted a public visit of an Israeli prime minister. It's a real breakthrough for Israeli diplomacy.
Under Oman’s auspices, the Israelis and the Palestinians appear to be negotiating some peace arrangement. The Palestinians have figured out that the wind has shifted against them. The Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, now have a de facto alliance with Israel against Iran. Both are on Iran’s nuclear strike list.
Other Arab Gulf countries are also moving closer to Israel. The United Arab Emirates recently hosted a visit of an Israeli government minister in its capital, Abu Dhabi. This sent silent shockwaves across the region; UAE’s Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed is enormously influential. If he was willing to take a meeting with Israeli leaders, then the Middle East is changing.
Another Arab country, Morocco, was once home to 265,000 Jews. During the Second World War, together with Jewish refugees from Europe who found a haven in the country, they were effectively shielded from the Nazis by Sultan Mohammed V, even under the country’s occupation by the Nazi-allied Vichy government. Most Moroccan Jews ended up in Israel, where today, together with their offspring, their numbers exceed one million. Each year, along with thousands of Israeli tourists including political Israeli figures of Moroccan stock sometimes visit the country. In their public statements, they evince pride in their Moroccan ancestry, and pay homage to King Mohammed VI’s official status as a spiritual leader to Muslims and Jews alike.
Far from signaling the abandonment of the Palestinians, these diplomatic developments could impose on them the unity and realism necessary to achieve real peace. Without the unquestioning support of Arab leaders, and the vast funds that they provide, the Palestinians will have to become more realistic in their goals — and drop their demands that Israel cease to exist. They will have to learn to live side-by-side with the Jewish state, share water, strike trade and electricity deals, and, most of all, cease their terrorist attacks.
We may be finally witnessing the slow, steady steps that may lead, eventually, to a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This would not be the first time that borders and fates of Arabs and Jews have been decided in secret meetings.
Consider that in the short years before the 1967 war, as pan-Arab calls to annihilate Israel were reaching a fever pitch, Hassan II called for Israeli integration in the Arab League.
Would it be time to do so?
Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan Publisher. He sits on the Board of Directors of The Atlantic Council in Washington and International Councillors at The Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's also on the Board of Trustees of the The Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and member of The National Interest’s Advisory Council. Mr. Charai is a Mid-East policy advisor in Washington whose articles have appeared in the major U.S. media. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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