Oman joins Saudi led alliance

Oman flag map
  • By Suliman Algailani

Oman joins Saudi led alliance

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Oman has traditionally resisted the Gulf Arab states’ efforts to close ranks, yet has now joined a Saudi-led coalition of countries to combat terrorism, according to Saudi sources.

The Omani sultanate indicated it’s willingness to take part in the 40 nation alliance in a letter to Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman.

The alliance is in addition to the existing 6 member GCC of: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman which was established in May 1981 by Saudi Arabia.

Although differences are rarely aired in public, Oman has long stood out among its Gulf allies. The Sultanate has demonstrated signs of worry that a wider regional confrontation between Riyadh and Tehran could threaten its own stability, and seeks to play the conciliator.

“Oman has always in the past taken positions and policies that are contrary to the Gulf Coalition positions regarding the region. This now shows the return of Oman to the Gulf consensus against Iran and its political positions,” one source said.

The same source stated that Oman’s move was a geopolitical shift in the region because “it is known that Oman has been close to Iran, the traditional enemy of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries”.

Prince Mohammed was expected to travel to Muscat in coming weeks to prepare for a visit by King Salman.

According to Reuters Oman had changed its direction in the region after it realised the “lack of seriousness and lack of benefits of cooperation with the Iranians.”

Saudi Arabia announced the alliance in December 2015, a move welcomed by Washington which has been urging a greater regional involvement in the campaign against Da’ish Al-Dawla in Syria and Iraq.

Although not explicitly aimed at countering Iran, the coalition includes neither Tehran nor it’s ally, the elected government in Iraq.

Oman has watched with concern as rivalry between Sunni majority Saudi Arabia and Shi’a majority Iran has spread across the region. Riyadh and some other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Oman is a member, have in the past suggested that Tehran is using sectarianism to interfere in Arab countries and build its own sphere of Middle East influence.

Riyadh has backed groups opposing Iranian proxies in unrest or outright war in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen, and has persuaded most of the GCC to close ranks against Tehran. Oman has sought to distance itself from that effort.

It facilitated secret U.S. talks with Tehran that led to a 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program which Riyadh regarded with deep suspicion.

Whilst some other GCC countries gave money and political support to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in his 1980-88 war with Iran, Oman maintained relations with Tehran and helped to mediate a ceasefire that ended the fighting.

The Sultanate, which sits on the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula through which flows 40 percent of the world’s seaborne crude oil, has a history of constructive relations with Tehran, and sees itself as a mediator in a turbulent region. Oman enjoys one of the highest standards of life in the world and actively involves itself in peace talks and peaceful negations throughout the region whilst staying away from military intervention.

Da’ish Al-Dawla had pledged to overthrow the monarchies of the GCC and had also mounted a series of attacks on Shi’a masjids in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

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