Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently returned from a surprise, secret, one-day trip to Oman, where he engaged in talks with Sultan Qaboos. The 70-year-old Qaboos has largely stayed out of the Middle Eastern conflicts. Oman never went to war with Israel, and it was one of only three Arab states not to break relations with Egypt after Sadat signed the Camp David Accords. Nor has it been involved in the Sunni-Shi’a conflict, for 75% of Omanis belong to Ibadiyya Islam, a third branch of Islam, found only in Oman and in a handful of oases in Algeria. It is much too complicated to detail the theological differences and similarities of Ibadis with Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, but we ought to mention the political quietism of Ibadiyya Islam, and the comparatively good treatment that Ibadis have historically provided to Christians and Jews living amongst them. The Ibadi sect’s emphasis on tolerance and moderation is underscored by the accommodations that Oman’s leadership provides the 25 percent of the population that is not Ibadi. Unlike any other country — except Israel — in the region, Oman’s legal system offers extensive protection to religious minorities (Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists). Oman is, in its advocacy of religious pluralism and social inclusion, far ahead of its Arab neighbors. The Ibadis are a tiny minority in the world of Islam. 90% of Muslims are Sunnis, a little more than 9% are Shi’a, and fewer than 1% are Ibadis, so tolerance for both Sunnis and Shi’a in Oman is a way to ensure tolerance for Ibadis outside of Oman..
Why did Netanyahu and Qaboos get together just now?
Many reports claim that the Israelis are using Oman as a back channel to Iran. For the Omanis maintain cordial relations with Iran, just as they do with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and every other state in the Gulf, and this may be a way for Israel to communicate with its archenemy.