Israel: Oman to allow Israeli planes through its airspace

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP): Israel’s foreign minister said Thursday that the Gulf Arab state of Oman has decided to allow Israeli planes to fly through its airspace. The announcement was another sign of closer ties between Israel and some Arab countries.

There was no immediate confirmation from Oman. The move comes on the heels last year of a similar step by Saudi Arabia, and would shorten the flying distance between Israel and Asia.

“This is a significant and historic decision for the Israeli economy and Israeli travelers,” said Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who said there had been American involvement in the decision.

Oman and Israel have had secretive ties for years, which were spotlighted in 2018 when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to the country, the first trip of its kind in over 20 years.

Still, Oman was not among the four countries to sign normalization deals with Israel in 2020 under U.S-brokered agreements known as the Abraham Accords. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Morocco and Sudan, all agreed to normalize ties with Israel as part of the deals.

The sultanate has long had a low-key role in fostering negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Oman, which sits on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, with Saudi Arabia to its north and Iran to its east, also has a long record of being a quiet broker in the region, opting to stay on the sidelines of the rivalry between the two regional powerhouses.

Oman has also served as a mediator between the United States and Israel’s arch-rival Iran. Oman hosted the secret talks that eventually led to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and has facilitated the release of prisoners and hostages held by armed groups.

Earlier this week, Oman welcomed Syrian President Bashar Assad on his first visit outside Syria since the earthquake there earlier this month.