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Oman dashes Abraham Accords hopes by criminalising relations with Israel



JTA – Just a few years ago, Oman was expected to be next in line after Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates to sign onto the Abraham Accords normalisation agreements with Israel.

On Friday, 6 January, the country’s parliament voted to criminalise any relations or interactions with “the Zionist entity”.

While the exact details have not been made public, the new law seems to be broadly applied.

“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, the vice president of the Omani parliament, about the bill, according to Oman’s WAF news agency.

The sultanate at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula was for a long time closer to Israel than other states in the region were. Oman never took part in any war with the Jewish state and established unofficial trade relations with Israel in the early 2000s. Omani Sultan Qaboos Bin Said welcomed three Israeli prime ministers to his country: Yitzhak Rabin in 1994, Shimon Peres in 1996, and Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018.

Oman carved a niche for itself as the Switzerland of the Middle East, an important middleman in everything from the Iranian nuclear talks to Yemeni civil war negotiations.

However, Qaboos, who was the longest reigning ruler of the Middle East’s oldest independent state, died in 2020 with no heirs. Rulership passed to his cousin, Haitham Bin Tariq, who has subsequently moved closer to Iran.

However, the developments Al-Harithi is referring to could include the rise of Israel’s new right-wing government, which has already provoked anger well beyond the Middle East. “What also potentially fuels this is a recent call by a number of Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, to go to the United Nations and condemn Israel over the recent rise of [Itamar] Ben-Gvir,” Nir Boms, the director of the Program for Regional Co-operation at the Moshe Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

For more Islamist-leaning factions across the region, “The issues around Israel are coming to a point where they need to have a counter-reaction and come back to a boycott policy,” he said.

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

“The last thing Muscat wants is for the Gulf to become a battlefield with attacks on Western shipping, resulting in the closure of the Straits of Hormuz,” said Tom Gross, a British journalist and Middle East expert. “Oman, like Qatar, is trying to calm Iran.”

In spite of the bill, Gross thinks Omani relations with Israel will continue as they always have – under the table.

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