Oman's Growing Ties with Iran Threatens its Neutrality: FDD Report
Weapons smuggling to Houthis via Oman rank among recent concerns
(Washington, DC, May 9, 2019) – A new report issued today by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies reviews Oman's policies, and warns that Muscat may be drawing too close to Tehran. Economic deals between the two countries and reports of Iranian weapons traversing Omani territory have caused concern in Washington and among its Gulf neighbors.
The Gulf country has traditionally adopted a neutral position vis-a-vis Iran, but in recent years there has been reason to doubt that neutrality, note authors Jonathan Schanzer and Nicole Salter in "Oman in the Middle: Muscat's Balancing Act Between Iran and America." Schanzer is senior vice president for research at FDD, where Salter is a project manager and Oman specialist.
After facilitating talks between Washington and Tehran that led to the 2015 nuclear deal, Oman and Iran announced several economic deals, including a proposal to build a natural gas pipeline between them. Reports issued by the United Nations, Reuters, and Bloomberg also indicate that Oman may have turned a blind eye to Iranian smuggling efforts that armed the Houthis in Yemen. While this crisis has likely passed, some of Oman's Gulf neighbors remain deeply skeptical of Muscat's intentions.
The U.S. military values its longstanding relationship with the sultanate, which grants the U.S. access to strategic air bases and port facilities close to Iran. Oman also works with the U.S. Navy to ensure freedom of navigation through the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway through which 30 percent of all seaborne-traded crude oil passes.
"This report is the result of more than six months of research, including travel to Oman in December of last year," Schanzer said. "The Omanis have gone to great lengths to show us that they are committed to a strong U.S.-Oman relationship. But we remain concerned about the country's deep ties to the regime in Tehran, particularly at a moment when U.S. policy is to isolate that regime."
The authors make eight specific policy recommendations Washington should consider to help Oman maintain its neutrality.