SEVERAL analysts and political commentators have welcomed Oman’s decision to join a Saudi-led military alliance.
Oman’s defense minister sent a letter to Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense announcing the decision to join the 40-nation Islamic Military Alliance Against Terrorism, the Saudi Press Agency said.
The letter was handed over by Omani Ambassador to the Kingdom.
Prince Muhammad expressed his appreciation for the leadership of the Sultanate of Oman to support the efforts of Saudi Arabia in the coalition to fight terrorism.
Prince Muhammad will go to Oman in the coming weeks to pave the way for a visit by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, according to well-informed sources.
The King’s trip would help re-establish security, military and economic cooperation, the source said on condition of anonymity.
Although not explicitly aimed at countering Iran, the coalition includes neither Tehran nor its allied government in Iraq.
Oman has watched with concern as rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has spread across the region. Riyadh and some other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Oman is a member, believe 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 US talks with Tehran that led to a 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program which Riyadh regarded with deep suspicion.
While other GCC countries gave money and political support to Iraqi leader 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.
“From a political standpoint it’s a Saudi win bringing in Oman back to the GCC fold,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based consulting firm Cornerstone Global Associates.
“It will give Saudi greater regional influence and greater geological leverage.”
Another source said Oman had changed its direction in the region after it realized the “lack of seriousness and of benefits” of cooperation with the Iranians.
Noted media consultant Ibrahim Bin Saad Al-Majed said Oman’s joining the alliance is a crucial step that would have far-reaching ramifications in the region. Moreover, this will further strengthen the potential of GCC in influencing the world politically and economically. “The news of Oman’s joining the alliance to combat the scourge of terror gave immense joy to all people in the GCC states, while it saddened the enemies of the unity of Gulf and its people. It also reinforces the concept that the GCC stands united,” he said.
He drew attention to the fact that Sultan Qaboos Bin Said of Oman is the last remaining founders of the GCC. Sultan Qaboos is well known for his wisdom and far-sightedness. The people of Oman never stayed away from their Gulf brethren. However, they cherished their own viewpoints on some issues and these positions won appreciation even from citizens of other GCC states.
Al-Majed also lauded Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman for playing a remarkable role in bringing closer of the viewpoints of the GCC states and that culminated in Oman’s joining of the broad alliance of Islamic states against terrorism.
Oman’s Foreign Minister Yousuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, in an interview with Egypt’s Al Akhbar newspaper published this week, said his country “has common interests with everybody, but each country has its own ways of achieving these interests and goals.” — With input from Agencies