Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, made a secret trip to Oman, the Israeli government announced on Friday, in the clearest sign yet of the warming ties between Israel and the Gulf Arab states.
Like most Arab countries, Oman does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel and it is rare for an Israeli leader to visit any of the neighbouring Middle Eastern countries.
However, Israel has been making increasingly intense contact with the Gulf Arab states through secret channels, motivated largely by a shared opposition to Iran.
Mr Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife and senior Israeli security officials, flew to Oman on Thursday and was received by Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The visit was only made public after the Israeli delegation returned home on Friday afternoon.
Israel said the trip came "after lengthy contacts between the two countries".
Unusually, the trip was prominently highlighted in Oman’s state media. Arab governments often prefer to keep their contact with Israel as discreet as possible.
Two previous Israeli prime ministers have visited Oman but this was the first trip since 1996.
Mr Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister and the sultan discussed “ways to advance the peace process in the Middle East” as well as other issues of “joint interest”.
The Israeli government hailed the visit as “a significant step” in Mr Netanyahu’s policy of “deepening relations with the states of the region while leveraging Israel’s advantages in security, technology and economic matters”.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, visited Oman several days before Mr Netanyahu, raising the prospect that the sultan carried messages between the two sides.
Oman has often acted as a mediator between rival nations. The first secret talks between the US and Iran ahead of the nuclear agreement were held in Oman in 2013.
Israel has formal diplomatic relations with Egypt and Jordan but no other Arab countries. However, Israel and Saudi Arabia are both close US allies with a joint interest in confronting Iran in the region.
Both countries opposed the Iranian nuclear agreement and clashed with the Obama administration before being closely embraced by Donald Trump.
Signs of their secret contacts have peaked into sight in recent years, including an unprecedented interview Israel’s top military officer gave to a Saudi newspaper, where he offered to share intelligence with Riyadh.
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