Netanyahu makes first visit by Israeli prime minister to Oman since 1996


(JTA) — Benjamin Netanyahu made the first visit to Oman by an Israeli prime minister since 1996.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, along with Mossad head Yossi Cohen and others, visited the Gulf state earlier this week and returned Friday, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. The trip to Oman, an Arab country with no formal ties to Israel, had not been announced in advance.

Qaboos bin Said al Said, the country’s sultan and ruler since 1970, invited the Netanyahus “following prolonged talks between” Israel and Oman, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The joint statement issued at the end of the visit, from which the Prime Minister’s Office did not directly quote, said the meetings featured talks on “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.”

In the statement, Netanyahu’s office called the visit “a significant step in implementing” his policy of “deepening relations with the states of the region while leveraging Israel’s advantages in security, technology and economic matters.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had visited Oman days before Netanyahu.

In September, Netanyahu said Israel and some Arab countries have forged closer relationships following the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, including the United States. Despite vocal opposition by Israel and disapproval of several Sunni countries including Saudi Arabia, the deal offered Iran relief from international sanctions in exchange for its scaling back of parts of its nuclear program.

“The agreement with Iran was a bad agreement in every respect except for one – it brought us closer to the Arab world on a scale that we never knew, and one of our goals is that it continues,” Netanyahu said in a speech at the Foreign Ministry in September.

In addition to the Netanyahus and Cohen, the Israeli delegation to Oman included National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat; Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem; the prime minister’s head of staff, Yigal Horowitz; and Military Secretary Brig.-Gen. Avi Bluth.

Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 had been the last Israeli prime minister to visit Oman, where he was greeted by the sultan.

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