Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a secret trip to Oman on Friday on a first official visit by an Israeli leader to the Gulf nation in over two decades, The Times of Israel reported. The meeting between the Israeli leader and Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said was hailed as groundbreaking and as a sign of warming ties between the Jewish State and the Sunni Arab world.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed on Friday afternoon that Netanyahu and his wife Sara, as well as Mossad intelligence agency director Yossi Cohen and several high-profile Israeli officials, had just returned from an “official diplomatic visit” to Muscat, where the Israeli leader discussed the peace process and regional developments with the Sultan.
In a statement, his office said the trip was aimed at “tightening relations with other nations in the region, while leveraging Israel’s strengths in security, technology and finance,” adding that the meeting was the result of “extensive” contacts between Israel and the Gulf nation.
The Netanyahus were invited by the Sultan, who has been ruling Oman since 1970, “after lengthy contacts between the two countries,” the statement said. A joint press release issued by Jerusalem and Muscat noted that the Israeli Prime Minister discussed with the Sultan “ways to advance the peace process in the Middle East as well as several matters of joint interest regarding the achievement of peace and stability in the Middle East.”
The reclusive Omani ruler, who rarely appears in public, was seen walking in a hallway with Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, in photographs released by the Prime Minister’s Office. Oman later shared a video clip of their leader meeting with Netanyahu.
The trip was praised by Dan Shapiro, former United States Ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama, as a promising development. “Netanyahu’s visit to Oman, and the Omanis’ willingness to make it public, is positive: a useful opening for regional dialogue and an overt sign of mostly quiet strategic convergence between Gulf states and Israel,” Shapiro said. “Lots of work ahead to fully build on these gains. But it’s good.”
Netanyahu’s visit comes as Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, for the first time, arrived in the United Arab Emirates today, where she is scheduled to attend the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Judo tournament. Israel and the Gulf emirate have no official diplomatic relations. However, the UAE has recently been pursuing a policy of normalization with the Jewish State.
[Photo: YouTube/ IsraeliPM]