When he died last Friday, Qaboos bin Said al-Said was the longest-ruling head of state in the Arab world, having seized power in Oman from his father in 1970. Omanis are overwhelmingly Ibadi Muslims, neither Shiite nor Sunni, which positioned Qaboos to act frequently as an intermediary between Iran and its Sunni rivals. But he was also the among the first Arab leaders to make peaceful overtures to the Jewish state, as Yoel Guzansky and Efraim Halevy write—although full diplomatic relations do not yet exist between the two countries:
After Qaboos came to power, the British initiated ties between Israel and Oman, which at the time was dealing with an invasion from Yemen. . . . British and Iranian aid (during the shah’s rule, prior to the Islamic Revolution) was supplemented by Israeli military and political advice, as well as Israeli help in providing solutions to the water shortage in the sultanate.
After some twenty years of secret and sensitive relations between Oman and Israel, there was a positive shift in the ties between the two countries following the signing of the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan. That same year, Prime Minister Yitzḥak Rabin, who wanted to infuse a regional dimension to the historic agreement, arrived in Muscat on a direct flight from Tel Aviv. . . . Oman was the first of the Gulf states to approve the establishment of an Israeli diplomatic mission.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conducted an official visit to Muscat in 2018 and according to reports flew over Saudi airspace en route. The Palestinian question was raised during talks between Netanyahu and Sultan Qaboos, but the Omani host did not pressure Israel on the matter. Questioned by a Palestinian representative at an event following Netanyahu’s visit, an Omani spokesman said that given that for 70 years the Palestinians had not been able to advance their claims against Israel, they would do well to seek new and different formulas that were in line with the spirit of the time.
As for Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, Qaboos’s cousin and handpicked successor, Guzansky and Halevy believe that he is “likely . . . to maintain close ties with Iran on the one hand and with Israel on the other.”