Rapprochement With Saudis Said to be Signaled by Iran’s Gulf Ally

In a sign that Iran’s closest ally in the region is ready to improve its ties with the kingdom, Oman told Saudi Arabia it will join a Saudi-led military alliance, the kingdom’s official news agency reported.

The Saudi Press Agency said that announcing the decision to join the Islamic Military Alliance Against Terrorism was Oman’s defense minister in a letter to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to a person familiar with the matter, to pave the way for a visit by King Salman, the prince will go to Oman in the coming weeks.

Because of its close relationship with Iran, the kingdom’s biggest regional rival, has strained Oman’s ties with Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

On the opposite sides of Middle East conflicts from Syria to Yemen are Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite-led Iran. After its embassy in Tehran was attacked in a protest over the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, the kingdom suspended ties with Iran last year.

“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.”

Oman’s defense minister sent a letter to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announcing the decision to join the Islamic Military Alliance Against Terrorism, the Saudi Press Agency said. The prince will go to Oman in the coming weeks to pave the way for a visit by King Salman, according to a person familiar with the matter. The king’s trip would help re-establish security, military and economic cooperation, the person said on condition of anonymity.

Oman’s ties with Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council have been strained because of its close relationship with Iran, the kingdom’s biggest regional rival.

Oman is one of the region’s smallest oil producers, and a rapprochement could help boost cooperation between Oman, and the bloc’s richest members. Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are also part of the six member GCC group.

Placed on the opposite sides of Middle East conflicts ranging from Syria to Yemen are the Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite-led Iran. After the Saudi embassy in Tehran was attacked in a protest over the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia suspended ties with Iran last year. Diplomatic steps against the Islamic Republic of Iran were taken by all other Gulf countries, except Oman.

“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.”

His country “has common interests with everybody, but each country has its own ways of achieving these interests and goals,” said Oman’s Foreign Minister Yousef Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, in an interview with Egypt’s Al-Akhbar newspaper published this week.

In order to face the security threats against Muslim nations, an anti-terror coalition was formed last year at the initiative of Prince Mohammed, King Salman’s son, and the Saudi-led military alliance is a reference to that anti-terror coalition.

In the Saudi government, the prince is also the defense minister. in neighboring Yemen, the kingdom launched a war to support an internationally-recognized government, which was against the Shiite rebels, shortly after his father ascended to the throne in 2015.

Saudi officials have said that military action was necessary to stop the Shiite-ruled Islamic Republic from expanding its influence in the Arabian Peninsula and have accused Iran of backing the Houthis.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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