(December 9, 2018 / JNS) Oman’s unique geostrategic location has enticed China’s recent $10 billion investment in an industrial park at Oman’s southern port of Duqm on the northern Indian Ocean/Arabian Sea. 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. Furthermore, Denmark’s Maersk, the largest shipping company in the world, has 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 rivalry, which could haunt the country upon his departure. Homeland security-driven attempts are being made to reduce the number of foreign laborers, who account for about 40 percent of Oman’s 4.8 million population.
Oman is located at the strategically critical Strait of Hourmuz, which is the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean (the Gulf of Oman/Indian Ocean), the route of 20 percent of the global petroleum.
Oman is sandwiched between Iran’s megalomaniacal Ayatollahs (21 nautical miles apart), Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are threatened by the Ayatollahs’ subversion, terrorism and conventional military, and the volcanic Yemen, which is a major platform of Islamic terrorism, extending the Ayatollahs’ reach in their attempt to topple the House of Saud.
The more volatile, unpredictable, unstable, violent, intolerant Sunni and Shi’ite terror-ridden is the Middle East, and the closer is the Ayatollahs’ machete to the throats of the Persian Gulf Arab regimes, the closer are Oman and all other relatively moderate Arab countries to Israel. They consider Israel the most effective military and counter-terrorism “life-insurance agent” in the region, as well as a source of ground-breaking experience and technologies in the areas of agriculture, irrigation, medicine, health, education, welfare, communal organization, etc.
Irrespective of the Palestinian issue, Oman—just like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt and all other pro-U.S. Arab countries—is preoccupied with domestic and regional threats and challenges, which supersede the Palestinian issue, and therefore provide tailwinds to enhanced national security, homeland security and commercial ties with Israel.
According to a Nov. 24 opinion article by Salman Aldosary, the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, a leading Saudi daily, reflecting the worldview of the House of Saud, the Saudi national security priorities are confronting destabilizing elements (code name for the Ayatollahs, ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood); solidifying strategic coordination against the Ayatollahs with the United Arab Emirates, 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 articulated on Nov. 25 by the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who listed the Middle East’s main problems: “Naturally, at the top of the list he put 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.
“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, saying it could be the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq’s 1990 occupation of Kuwait, 9/11 or the American invasion of Iraq. According to Gheit, it was ’the so-called Arab Spring that caused the destruction of the Arab World. … Along with Iran’s encroachment on the Arab states. 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.’ … Listening to other representatives of Arab League member states who either ignored, or downplayed, the Palestinian issue, Gheit’s words sounded like lip service….
“On the stage and behind the scenes [at the MED 2018 Conference] there seemed much more appetite for normalization with Israel. Oman’s Foreign Minister said it quite clearly when he called on the Arab world to come to terms with the reality that Israel is a fact of life in the region. … Even Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Zarif seemed to realize that this wasn’t a venue for Israel-bashing … ”
Why don’t Arabs, in general, and Persian Gulf Arabs, 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 grand-betrayal of Kuwait, which was a most hospitable and generous host of some 400,000 Palestinians, all of them allies of 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 U.S. 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, nor a crown jewel of Arab policy-makers, nor the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.