OPINION | Oman, an Optimal Option for Mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia

OPINION | Oman, an Optimal Option for Mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia

By Hossein Kebriaeezadeh
Expert on Middle East Issues / via IranReview.org

Image Attribute: The file photo of  His Majesty Qaboos bin Said al Said, Sultan of Oman /  Source: Wikimedia Commons

Image Attribute: The file photo of  His Majesty Qaboos bin Said al Said, Sultan of Oman /
 Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Middle East is a region of wonders. Most governments in this region have differences with each other and try to tolerate each other one way or another. However, there is also a small and not very strong country in this region, which can play a mediatory role with regard to differences that exist among big players.

Oman is a small country at the heart of the Middle East, which is run as a sultanate by Sultan Qaboos. This small state has based its political relations with other countries on mediation among regional states. In the meantime, Tehran, on the other hand, is the most important actor for which Muscat has been willing to play a mediatory role since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in the country.

For the first time, Oman tried in 1987 to cut the Gordian knot of the war between Iran and its western neighbor, Iraq, through negotiations. Of course, Muscat’s effort in this regard did not bear fruit, but it assured the Iranian side about the goodwill of the Arab country. However, that futile effort turned into a prelude for mediation by Muscat in such cases as the freedom of the British sailors, who had been taken into captivity by Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) forces in 2007, as well as the freedom of three American youths, who had been nabbed by Iran's security forces on the country’s soil after being accused of espionage during 2011 and 2012.

However, the most prominent example of Oman’s mediatory efforts was made in relation to Iran's nuclear agreement with the P5+1 group of countries, which is also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The agreement opened a new chapter in Iran's relations with the world and caused one of the most important differences between the Islamic Republic and the international community to be resolved without war.

The question is how and through what process Oman, as a main ally of the United States in the region and a friend of Israel, managed to achieve such a high potentiality in the region? In response, it must be noted that part of this issue has its root in the history of relations between Iran and Oman. Before the Islamic Revolution, Iran's Army helped the government of Oman and played an important role in suppressing leftist insurgents in Dhofar region of Oman. As a result, Sultan Qaboos, one way or another, believed that continuation of his rule was owned to the help offered by Iran for its neighboring country.

Another important factor, however, is the differences that this small country has with other Arab states of the region. Realism, showing high respect for dialogue, as well as refraining from practical and even verbal interference in the internal affairs of other countries have turned Oman into a special regional actor with extraordinary abilities for mediation.

Of course, the charismatic and respectable personality of Sultan Qaboos must not be easily ignored. Despite his old age, he continues to easily manage the traditional society of Oman, and despite economic problems and regional tensions, has been able to create a safe society for citizens of his country.

The abilities of this country and the differences that exist between Oman and other countries in the region have had positive effects on the entire region. Although some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia do not agree with Oman’s behavior, Oman serves as a safety vent both to facilitate the presence of American forces in the region and for the entire region, and even serves as a cushion between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Oman has helped to rectify many miscalculations on the part of Saudi Arabia and other member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council about Tehran at various junctures. Correct and well-wishing advice given to Americans by officials of Oman have prevented a possible conflict and even a regional war and its consequences in the Persian Gulf region.

It seems that in view of this positive background, Oman will be able to once again take advantage of its potentialities in order to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia in favor of all involved parties and the entire region. It must be noted that relations between Tehran and Riyadh have hit a rock bottom and are at their worst during the past four decades. In view of the aforesaid examples, Iranians fully trust Oman as a positive and impartial actor. However, due to the existing political, territorial and even ideological differences between Muscat and Riyadh, this issue will put Oman to a difficult test, which needs its own conceptual and practical contexts.

Now, in view of the developments in Syria, where Saudi Arabia is on the brink of another major regional failure, the practical context is ready and Riyadh can take advantage of the subtlety of Omani officials to reduce the aftermath of this failure.

With regard to the conceptual context, the way is clear for Saudis to achieve this insight. Saudi officials know that Sultan Qaboos is well aware of the political atmosphere in Iran, knows about Iran's red lines, is well-versed about the complexities of negotiation with Iranians, knows Tehran’s considerations better than any other actor, and most importantly, is able to convince the Iranians.

As a result of these conditions, Oman is still the best option for mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia in their existing differences. If the Saudi side has achieved necessary rationality to solve its differences with Iran, which in view of the ongoing serious Hajj pilgrimage talks between Tehran and Riyadh this seems to be the case, then Saudis can put their trust in Sultan Qaboos’ mediatory skills despite differences they have with Muscat.

Of course, this mediation can lead to a win-win game and even tone down tensions between Oman and Saudi Arabia through a rare process and phenomenon, and in doing so, offer solutions to other regional challenges with which Saudis are currently faced, including the war in Yemen.

The article was originally published at IranReview.org on March 16, 2017.
Republished at IndraStra with permission. All rights reserved by the Iran Review.

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DISCLAIMER: These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily IranReview's  or IndraStra Global;s viewpoints.
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