The head of the Mossad intelligence service said Monday that Israel was renewing ties with Oman.
“Just recently, renewal of formal relations with Oman was declared and the establishment of a representative office of the foreign ministry in that country,” Yossi Cohen said at the Herzliya Conference, hosted by the Interdisciplinary Center this week.
“That is only the visible tip of a much broader secret effort,” he said, adding that in addition to Israel’s historic treaties with Jordan and Egypt, other Arab countries had discreetly joined “the states of peace, some of them in an unseen manner.”
“We do not yet have with them official peace treaties but there is already a communality of interests, broad cooperation and open channels of communication,” he added.
Israel and Oman agreed to open trade representative offices in the 1990s, but in 2000 the Gulf sultanate closed them after the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Cohen’s remarks.
In October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held surprise talks with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Muscat.
The recent moves have raised Palestinian fears of a normalization of ties.
Last week Oman said it would open an embassy in the Palestinian territories in support of the Palestinian people, in a first for a Gulf state.
The announcement was greeted warily by senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi, who warned Oman against using the new embassy as a step towards establishing formal relations with Israel.
“If this has a political price attached then certainly there will be ramifications,” she said.
Mutual concerns about Shiite Iran have lately highlighted common interests between some Arab countries and Israel.
In an unprecedented step, a handful of Israeli journalists invited by the White House flew openly to Bahrain last week for a US-sponsored workshop unveiling economic planks of a broader plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The Gulf state has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
On Monday Israel’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Foreign Minister Israel Katz had visited Abu Dhabi for a UN climate conference, where he met United Nations chief Antonio Guterres and an unnamed “high ranking UAE official.”
“I shall continue to work together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to advance the normalization policy,” Katz posted on Facebook.
That policy, he wrote, was based on “Israel’s capabilities in the areas of security and intelligence and also in various civilian fields.”
The United Arab Emirates do not have formal diplomatic ties with the Jewish state but Culture Minister Miri Regev paid a visit to Abu Dhabi in October.
The statement did not say when Katz was there but described his visit as the first by a senior Israeli minister since the Bahrain conference.
In his Monday speech, Cohen said that a potentially one-time-only window of opportunity had opened for Israel to achieve a regional peace agreement in light of shared opposition to Iran and Islamist terror groups, as well as improved ties with the US and Russia.
“The Mossad has identified at this time a rare opportunity — perhaps the first in the history of the Middle East — to reach a regional understanding that would lead to an inclusive regional peace agreement,” he said.
According to the Mossad chief, the opportunity comes from a shared interest with countries throughout the region in fighting Iran and Islamic terror groups, like the Islamic State, and from the close relations with the White House and the Kremlin.
“This creates a window of opportunity that is perhaps one-time-only,” he said.
Cohen in his speech accused the Iranian government of being behind a number of strikes on oil facilities and ships in the Persian Gulf in recent months, as well as an attack on the Bahraini embassy in Baghdad last week.
“I say to you, with certainty, based on the best sources of both Israeli and Western espionage, that Iran is behind these attacks. They were approved by Iranian leadership and carried out, in large part, by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies,” he said.
He accused Tehran of trying “to start a fire” in in the Middle East.
The Mossad chief warned that Iran was extending the range of its activities and had established a 300-person cell inside Africa for that purpose. Cohen also noted that Iran has been accused of conducting and planning a number of terrorist activities inside Europe in recent years.
In an apparent reference to reported Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria early Monday, the head of the Mossad said Israel was not interested in a conflict with its neighbor.
According to Cohen, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Syria have started transferring their forces farther from the border with Israel in a bid to avoid further strikes by the Israeli military.
“Iran and Hezbollah are asking to move their bases to northern Syria, an area that they mistakenly believe will be difficult for us to reach. In addition, they are establishing bases and precision missile factories in Iraq, to the east, and Lebanon, to the west,” he said.
Israel has for years warned that Iran and Hezbollah were attempting to establish factories in Lebanon to produce precision-guided missiles, which would present a far greater threat to Israel than the less advanced projectiles that currently fill the terror group’s arsenals.