TEL AVIV – The head of the Mossad said Monday that Israel was renewing ties with Oman and establishing a foreign mission in the Gulf sultanate, presenting an “unprecedented opportunity” for ties with other Arab states.
“Just recently, renewal of formal relations with Oman was declared and the establishment of a representative office of the foreign ministry in that country,” Yossi Cohen (pictured) said at the Herzliya Conference.
“That is only the visible tip of a much broader secret effort,” he said.
Other Arab states too, he said, were heading in the direction of Jordan and Egypt to normalize ties with Israel.
“There is a list of countries that recognize Israel, accept our existence and maintain cooperative relations out of mutual respect. … Additional countries have also joined this list but implicitly — we have shared interests and open channels of communication,” the intelligence chief said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman in October and met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
The trip was “a significant step in implementing the policy outlined by Prime Minister Netanyahu on deepening relations with the states of the region while leveraging Israel’s advantages in security, technology and economic matters,” his office said.
A month later, then-Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz traveled to the Sultanate to present a plan to his Omani counterpart that included a rail link between Israel and the Gulf.
“This is a historical visit that will improve relations” between Israel and the Sultanate, Katz said at the time.
Now serving as foreign minister, Katz visited Abu Dhabi for a UN climate conference, where he met United Nations chief Antonio Guterres and an unnamed “high ranking UAE official,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday.
According to a post on Katz’s Facebook page, he and Netanyahu were “advancing a normalization policy [based on] Israel’s capabilities in the areas of security and intelligence and also in various civilian fields.”
Last week, the Palestinian leadership welcomed Oman’s announcement that it would open an embassy in Ramallah, but added that it hoped the move was not part of a plan by the Gulf state to recognize Israel.
“This is a positive development,” an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said. “But we hope that this is not a first step toward establishing diplomatic relations between Oman and Israel.”
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi echoed the sentiment, saying, “If this has a political price attached then certainly there will be ramifications.”
Although Israel has no formal ties with any of the Gulf states, they share a mutual concern over Iran’s hegemonic ambitions as well as its nuclear program.
In his speech Monday, Cohen said that improved ties with the US and Russia and common interests in fighting Iran presented a “one-time opportunity” to achieve a regional peace agreement.
“The Mossad has identified at this time a rare opportunity — perhaps the first in the history of the Middle East — to reach a regional understanding that would lead to an inclusive regional peace agreement,” he said.
These new quasi-allies in the Arab world “are not willing to tolerate Iran’s thuggish behavior, positioning Israel as their focus for hatred,” he said.
Cohen also accused Iran of being behind last month’s attacks of two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and said Tehran sought “to start a fire” in the region.
“I say to you, with certainty, based on the best sources of both Israeli and Western espionage, that Iran is behind these attacks. They were approved by Iranian leadership and carried out, in large part, by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies,” he said.
Cohen also addressed Iran’s military presence in Syria, and said that its efforts to move their forces deeper into Syria in order to avoid Israeli strikes will fail.
“Iran and Hezbollah are asking to move their bases to northern Syria, an area that they mistakenly believe will be difficult for us to reach. In addition, they are establishing bases and precision missile factories in Iraq, to the east, and Lebanon, to the west,” he said.