Oman rushed to crown its new leader after the death of Sultan Qaboos Bin Said al Said, its ruler for fifty years. It was a clear sign of the Gulf state's determination to ensure a smooth transfer of power and inject a sense of stability after the passing of the longest serving leader in the Arab world.
The big question for Israel is whether Qaboos' successor, Haithman Bin Tarik al Said, 65 years old and a cousin of the late Sultan, will follow in his predecessor's footsteps in terms of Oman's foreign policy in general, and its close relations with Israel in particular. Those relations, forged in war, were cultivated in great secrecy and managed for decades by Israel's spy agency Mossad. Qaboos had good reason to value those ties: Israeli forces had helped save his place on the throne.
Oman, with a population of 4.5 million people and significant land mass -15 times the size of Israel - has crucial geostrategic importance. It overlooks the Straits of Hormuz, gatekeeping the Persian Gulf, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil flows. Oman shares borders with Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and less than 200km, over the Gulf of Oman, separates Muscat, the capital, from the Iranian mainland.
Its particular location and history were among the reasons which led Oman to reach out to Israel – back in the 1960s. Qaboos had taken power in a bloodless a coup d’état after overthrowing his father Sultan Said bin Taimur, with the support of the British government. Qaboos was a graduate of Britain's Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and had served in the British army.
The first connection paving the way for Omani-Israeli ties was formed by a team of former British spies and Special Forces commanders – and it all started in Yemen.
In 1963, a group of young Yemeni officers toppled Yemen’s monarchy and declared the country as a republic; they were backed by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser. As a result, civil war broke out. The Egyptian army entered the war on the side of the republicans, using chemical weapons against the royalists.
The Yemeni royalists were assisted by Saudi Arabia and the British team led by the legendary Second World War colonel David Sterling, founder of the Special Air Service (SAS), a model for many special forces around the globe, including Israel's Sayeret Matkal. Sterling worked alongside Col. David Smiley, a veteran of various secret British operations during WWII, including missions in Palestine and Syria.
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