The Persian Gulf state of Oman may be the next Arab country to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel.
Without providing details, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Tuesday that an Arab state would take the step in January. According to local media reports, the most likely candidate is Oman.
Strategically located at the tip of the Persian Gulf, Oman has maintained a secret relationship with Israel for 15 years, including a permanent Israeli presence on Omani soil, it was reported here this week.
The Israel presence in Oman was maintained by representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office, according to the daily newspaper Ha’aretz, The paper added that the Omani foreign minister, Yussuf ben-Allawi, had secretly visited Israel “more than once.”
The publication of this report was apparently in anticipation of the forging of formal diplomatic relations between Israel and several Gulf states in the months ahead.
Deputy Foreign minister Yossi Beilin held talks in the Omani capital of Muscat on Tuesday, and his visit there was officially publicized by the government of Oman.
Oman, along with the Persian Gulf states of Qatar and Bahrain, indicated during last week’s economic conference in Casablanca, Morocco, that they would set up formal ties with Israel within six months.
Their decision was widely understood to carry the blessing of their rich and powerful neighbor, Saudi Arabia.
The foreign minister of Oman was among the foreign dignitaries attending the Oct. 26 signing of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty. His presence there reflected the long standing close relationship between Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos, and Jordan’s King Hussein.