Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Oman last week was the most visible sign of Israel’s normalization of ties with Arab states with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.
But it was only the tip of the iceberg, as Israeli delegations fanned out to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as well.
Netanyahu met with Oman’s ruler Sultan Qaboos and other officials at the Bait al-Baraka royal palace near the capital Muscat.
Local media published footage of Netanyahu’s delegation being received at the palace:
The two leaders discussed the so-called peace process and mutual interests of stability in the region, according to Omani television.
“The public visit and the royal reception Prime Minister Netanyahu received over the weekend is the result of four months’ work, led by the Mossad,” Israel’s Ynet reported, referring to Israel’s notorious spying and assassination agency.
“It’s safe to assume Mossad director Yossi Cohen visited Muscat to finalize the details of that visit.”
Ynet said that Netanyahu’s visit was scheduled before the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi but could be exploited to show “the world that Oman is different,” adding that an unnamed “senior Israeli official even said that he doesn’t ‘rule out the use of Oman to open a secret channel with Iran and Syria.’”
An analyst in the Israeli daily Haaretz speculated that US President Donald Trump “might now encourage the Saudi crown prince to promote an agreement with Israel to cleanse himself of the Khashoggi affair, with the Israeli visit to Oman, the expert go-between, being part of the process.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, a close ally of Israel and the United States, is widely suspected of giving the order to a team of Saudi assassins to abduct, murder and dismember Khashoggi in his country’s consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.
Coming out of the shadows
Netanyahu’s visit was not unprecedented; in 1994, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin went to Oman, in the wake of the Oslo accords Israel signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which were widely expected to herald broader normalization between Israel and Arab states.
Yet as the peace process collapsed, and Israel tightened the grip of occupation, colonization and violence against Palestinians, official Arab ties with Israel remained cool, while developing in secret.
Recently, they have been coming out of the shadows.
Following Netanyahu’s visit, Oman’s foreign minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah urged formal recognition of Israel and normalization of ties.
“Israel is a state in the region, and we all understand this,” he said at a conference in Bahrain last Friday.
“We are not saying that the road is now easy and paved with flowers, but our priority is to put an end to the conflict and move to a new world,” he said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir agreed with Oman’s foreign minister.
“We think that the key to normalizing relations with Israel will have to be the peace process,” he said at the same conference.
One of the reasons that Israel and the US are so supportive of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, is that they see him as key to forcing Palestinians to accept a “peace” deal imposed by the Trump administration that would effectively liquidate Palestinian rights but pave the way for Israel to be fully integrated into the region.
Israeli anthem played in Abu Dhabi
Meanwhile, Israel’s flag was raised and its national anthem played in the United Arab Emirates twice in recent days at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam judo competition.
The norm is that participants who win medals can have their flag displayed. If they win gold, their national anthem is played as well.
Two Israeli competitors won gold medals on Sunday and Monday.
Israel’s sports and culture minister Miri Regev, who arrived in the Emirates late last week along with her country’s judo team, part of a blitz of Israeli normalization with Arab states in the region, cried with emotion as the Israeli anthem was played in the emirate.
Regev is notorious for her racist outbursts.
She once called African migrants a “cancer,” later apologizing to cancer victims for comparing them to Africans.
On another occasion, Regev posted a video of herself surrounded by Israeli fans of the notoriously racist Beitar football team shouting genocidal slogans against Arabs, including, “May your village be burned.”
In September, the United Arab Emirates judo federation capitulated to Israel’s demands to exhibit its symbols at the Abu Dhabi competition in October after Regev extensively lobbied the president of the International Judo Federation, Marius Vizer, to cancel the Abu Dhabi event, along with one in Tunisia, after the two countries refused to normalize Israeli participation.
The international federation reinstated the Abu Dhabi competition.
Regev also paid a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – the largest mosque in the Emirates – on Monday.
Regev boasted that it was the first time an Israeli government minister had visited the mosque.
Media also published a photo purportedly showing Regev and the Israeli athletes smiling and displaying an Israeli flag in Abu Dhabi:
While Regev celebrated in the United Arab Emirates, another Israeli-government backed delegation, the country’s gymnastics team, was competing in a tournament in Qatar.
Rise in normalization
Normalization between Arab countries – especially in the Gulf – and Israel has been on the rise, driven by the close Saudi-Israeli alliance.
One striking example was revealed by Buzzfeed News this month: the United Arab Emirates, with the help of Palestinian strongman Muhammad Dahlan, hired a firm run by an Israeli to assassinate people in Yemen.
According to the BuzzFeed report, Spear Operations Group, founded by security contractor Abraham Golan in 2015, hires former American soldiers as mercenaries to carry out the killings in Yemen on behalf of the UAE government.
More than a decade ago, Dahlan, a former Palestinian Authority intelligence chief, was the central player in a plot backed by the United States to mount a coup against Hamas, after the political and resistance organization won Palestinian legislative elections.
The plot ended with Dahlan and his men being driven out of Gaza, but it ushered in the division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip that persists to this day.
In recent years, Dahlan has been based in the UAE, where he advises the country’s rulers.
A CIA officer quoted by BuzzFeed said of Dahlan, “The UAE took him in as their pit bull.”
Dahlan was reportedly key to brokering the deal with Golan’s mercenaries on behalf of the UAE government.
Ali Abunimah contributed reporting.
- Arab normalization
- United Arab Emirates
- Sultan Qaboos
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Jamal Khashoggi
- Yossi Cohen
- Mohammad bin Salman
- Yitzhak Rabin
- Oslo accords
- Palestine Liberation Organization
- Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah
- The Jerusalem Post
- Adel al-Jubeir
- Miri Regev
- International Judo Federation
- Marius Vizer
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
- Muhammad Dahlan
- Abraham Golan
- Spear Operations Group
- Palestinian Authority