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Gulf State Oman Criminalizes Ties with Israel, Possibly to Appease Iran

It was only a few years ago that Oman and Israel were so close that the Gulf State was expected to be the next in line, after Sudan, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Morocco, to join the Abraham Accords. Times have changed.

On Friday, Oman’s parliament outlawed any ties or interactions with Israel, “the Zionist entity.” The details are still sketchy, but the application of the new law appears to be far-reaching—even including Zoom meetings.

“The brothers, Your Excellencies, looked at the development taking place, whether it was technical, cultural, economic or sports, and proposed additional amendments that include severing any economic, sports or cultural relations and prohibiting dealing in any way or means, whether it was a real meeting, an electronic meeting or something else, ” said Yaqoub Al-Harithi, Omani parliament vice president, talking about the scope of the measure.

Oman and Israel have had a long history of good relations. Oman is one of the few Arab nations that has never gone to war against Israel. The two nations also established unofficial trade relations in the early 2000s. Oman has welcomed three Israeli prime ministers, including Benjamin Netanyahu in his previous administration.

For years, Oman was known as the Switzerland of the Middle East, a neutral entity that could interact with Israel as well as Iran. The Gulf State has served as a middleman in the Iran nuclear talks and other regional issues.

A Turning point—against Israel

A big shift happened, though, in 2020 when the long-time Sultan Qaboos Bin Said died and left no heirs. His cousin, Haitham Bin Tariq, took over the country’s rule.

While he promised to follow in his cousin’s peaceful footsteps, he instead has moved closer and closer to Iran…and away from Israel. Last year, when Saudi Arabia opened up its skies for Israeli air traffic, Oman refused (cutting off a direct route from Israel to Asia).

But, Israel’s recent elections and the formation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government could also be a factor in the Omanis’ decision to criminalize ties to the Jewish state.

“What also potentially fuels this is a recent call by several Arab countries, including the UAE, to go to the United Nations and condemn Israel over the recent rise of [Itamar] Ben-Gvir,” said Nir Boms recently. Boms is the director of the Program for Regional Cooperation at the Moshe Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University. “The issues around Israel are coming to a point where they need to have a counter-reaction and come back to a boycott policy.”

Another reason may be fear of Iran, which is conducting military exercises off of Oman’s coast and is reeling from months of domestic protests.

“Oman, like Qatar, is trying to calm Iran. Their message is: ‘We are not the ones rushing to form relations with Israel, so don’t take it out on us,’” said Tom Gross, a British journalist, and expert on the Middle East. Gross speculates that relations between Israel and Oman will actually continue on as they have, just under the radar for now.

“The Omani vote was primarily designed to appease the Iranian regime. There is a feeling in intelligence circles that the counter-revolutionary uprising in Iran has passed the point of no return, and as a result, the regime in Tehran may try to externalize its domestic problems. Meanwhile, relations with Israel will likely continue, albeit more quietly.”