Tue, Oct 30, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Netanyahu’s visit to Oman sparks Cabinet rush to Gulf


Mohamed Bin Tha’loob Al Derai, president of the Emirati Wrestling, Judo and Kickboxing Federation, shakes hands with Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam jiujitsu tournament on Saturday.

Photo: AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprise visit to Oman pried open a door to the Persian Gulf usually shut to Israelis, and several of his Cabinet members are following him through.

Israeli Minister of Communications Ayoob Kara, an Arab-speaking Druze citizen of Israel, is to attend today a conference in Dubai of the International Telecommunications Union, while Israeli Minister of Transportation and Minister of Intelligence Yisrael Katz is to participate next week in another international conference in the Omani capital, Muscat. Israel Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev has been in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since Friday last week, accompanying Israel’s national judo team at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam jiujitsu tournament.

“It’s a sign that Israel and the Arab world are moving closer,” said Michael Oren, Netanyahu’s deputy minister for public diplomacy.

Israel’s ties with Gulf states have warmed in the past few years, primarily over a shared distrust of Iran and its push for regional hegemony.

US President Donald Trump has promoted this rapprochement, seeing Saudi Arabia and other Middle East allies as key to his policy of confronting Iran and advancing the regional peace proposal that he has promised to deliver soon.

That approach has been complicated as its linchpin, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, faces an international outcry over the killing of government critic Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Gulf countries are gradually making gestures to accept Israel, prodded by Trump and their desire to participate in international activities that forbid their barring other UN member states.

In a statement after his weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said his visit with Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos Al Said, included “very important talks for Israel’s security,” adding: “There will be more.”

Not everyone welcomed the breakthrough.

“Visits by teams and officials from the Israeli enemy to Gulf capitals pain our hearts,” prominent UAE political commentator Abdulkhaleq Abdullah wrote on Twitter. “If governments see it necessary to welcome them, people still have choices, and I choose to say a thousand times ‘no’ to normalization with the Israeli enemy.”

Oman has often been a go-between to resolve issues between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and its ruler was an important back channel in discussions between Iran, the US and other world powers that led to the 2015 nuclear deal, said Riad al-Khouri, a director of political risk adviser GeoEconomica, which based in Amman.

Last year, when Israeli Tal Flicker won a gold medal at the Grand Slam, Abu Dhabi organizers refused to display Israel’s flag or play its national anthem.

This year, threatened with being stripped of hosting the tournament, the emirate relented: Israeli Sagi Muki won a gold medal on Sunday and with Regev in attendance, Israel’s national anthem Hatikvah was played.

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