Why Iran-Oman Cooperation is Increasing

Published June 21st, 2022 - 06:18 GMT
Iran-Oman
Oman-Iran (Shutterstock)

Iran and Oman have had numerous contacts throughout history. The current land of Oman in the pre-Islamic period and the various Iranian empires had many ties with Iran. Parts of Oman were either under the rule of the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sassanid empires at various times, or were inhabited by people of Iranian descent, or there were various bilateral economic and cultural ties.

After the advent of Islam, comprehensive relations between the two close lands with variables such as the expansion of the presence of Baluch and Iranian groups and tribes in Oman, and the political-military relations of the Iranian governments with the Omani people and governments continued.

In the last few centuries, the Omani people became very powerful with the independence of Portugal in 1650, and by resisting the Iranian attempts for hegemony, they even established commercial posts on some coasts of Iran. The people of Oman have also had very close cultural and economic relations with Iran over the past century.


Although in the 20th century, political relations between Iran and the land of Oman had ups and downs, with the strengthening of Oman, the country's withdrawal from British influence in 1951, the formation of the Omani monarchy in the 1970s, Iran-Oman relations expanded very much. In 1970, when Sultan Qaboos bin Said succeeded, Sultan Said bin Taimur al-Busaidi, a major turning point in bilateral relations arose.

After the telegram of Sultan Qaboos to the Shah of Iran, Tehran was the third country after Britain and the United States that recognized the government of Sultan Qaboos after many years of stagnation in relations.

Until 1970, there was no modern political relationship between Iran and Oman. After the presence of a delegation from Iran in Oman, the Iranian government announced the establishment of political relations between the two countries in 1971, and formal relations began. The first ambassador of the Iranian government was stationed in Muscat in 1972.

The most important challenge of the young sultan was the Dhofar revolt. The Dhofar uprising or battle in Dhofar province began in 1965. The opposition briefly occupied some areas and continued their advance until 1972. Muscat sent a representative to Tehran asking Iran for help. Therefore, an agreement on Iranian military assistance to Oman in the fight against the Dhofar rebels was signed.

Iran was an important factor against the communist bloc during the Cold War. The Iranian army gained advantages and superiority in the two dimensions of air and ground forces in the Middle East. Therefore, Dhofar War was the largest modern military operation of the Iranian army.


In the fall of 1972, the Iranian army went to Oman with about 10,000-20,000 troops and established a military base. Iran, Oman, Jordan, Baluch and British forces suppressed the opposition.


Reasons for Iran's involvement in the Dhofar War are common interests such as protecting oil tankers, confronting the Soviet and international communism in the region, following the Nixon Doctrine, confronting South Yemen (the only Marxist state in the Middle East), and fearing from the presence of insurgents in the Strait of Hormoz and so on. In fact, the Sultanate of Oman considered it very wise and reasonable to accept help from Iran, and the Shah of Iran considered military support for Oman as a defense of the country's security.


Iran's military operation in Oman led to more and more cooperation between the country and Oman, and apart from Sultan Qaboos's participation in the 2,500th-anniversary celebration of the empire, the two countries, under an agreement, conducted a joint naval inspection in the Strait of Hormuz.  During this period, economic relations entered a new phase in the form of limited local-coastal trade, and gradually, Iran and Oman became important economic partners. Iran became one of the most important exporters of goods and services to Oman. Apart from the start of flights between Tehran and Muscat, the cultural relations between the two countries also developed with the signing of treaties.


Islamic Revolution and Oman-Iran relations in the 1980-90s

After the Islamic Revolution of Iran of 1979, the process of relations was accompanied by the recognition of the Islamic Republic of Iran by Oman and the presence of Yusuf bin Alawi (after Yasser Arafat, the second Arab official to visit Iran). But Iran's sharp criticism of Arab countries, speculation about Iran's support for the Muscat opposition, Oman's cooperation with the United States in releasing American hostages, and so on reduced the level of relations between the two countries until 1985.

With the cutting of Oman’s aid to Iraq during the country's invasion of Iran, Oman's lack of support for Iraq during the country's 8-year war against Iran, Oman's willingness to mediate in easing Iran-US tensions, and Iran-related issues the tensions in bilateral relations gradually eased and Iran-Oman relations rose to ambassadorial level. Oman's mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia led to the resumption of relations between the two countries after three years of severance.


In addition, Oman rejected a request for sanctions and diplomatic and economic isolation of Iran in 1987, and hosted secret talks between Tehran and Baghdad to end the 1987 war. Oman's role in reducing Iran-Britain tensions, the 1991 Iran-Egypt dialogue, and the release of Egyptian prisoners of war by Iran were also prominent.


However, in the Gulf War (1991-1991), a dispute between Iran and Oman over the deployment of anti-ship missiles near the Strait of Hormuz clouded relations between Muscat and Tehran. Therefore, Muscat intensified its military presence in Musandam. But the two sides eased tensions and the nature of cooperation returned.


Relationships in the past two decades


The establishment of a joint strategic committee, continuation of the joint commission for economic and technical cooperation between the two countries, development of the maritime transport fleet, facilitation of visas for Iranian and Omani citizens, and promotion of Iran-Oman trade relations are examples of expanding bilateral cooperation in the past two decades. In addition to the trade agreement, the aviation cooperation agreement, the international corridor, the formation of specialized committees in the oil and gas fields, the various projects of the Iranian contractors in Oman have been another part of the growing cooperation. The volume of trade between Iran and the Sultanate of Oman in 2010 was more than $ 500 million.


In the diplomatic sphere, we have witnessed the visit of Mohammad Khatami as the first president of Iran who visited Oman, the visit of Sultan Qaboos to Iran, the two visits of Hassan Rouhani, the then president of the Islamic Republic of Iran and dozens of other officials to Oman. In this period, we also see the role of Oman as the guardian of Iran's interests in Britain and Canada. At this time, Oman mediated to play an important role in the release of 15 British sailors in 2007, the release of Nasrullah Tajik, the former Iranian diplomat to London, the release of an Iranian prisoner in the United States, and the return of three American citizens in 2011.


Oman's most prominent mediating role was in Iran reaching the Geneva agreement with the P5 + 1 Group. This role has continued over the past decade with approaches such as mediation in times of escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.

What is clear is that although differences such as disagreement over Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Muscat in 2018, along with other challenges have also existed in the past few decades in the expansion of Iran-Oman relations, But, the increasing of cooperation and the two side’s needs to the other side’s role in the Foreign policy has led to the continuation and strengthening of relations. In fact, strengthening this trend has played an important role in regional balance, pursuing national security requirements, considerations of stability and national unity, and avoiding regional conflict between the two countries.

In fact, in addition to the non-confrontation of the two countries' approaches toward the Arab Spring, things such as the Yemeni crisis, numerous memoranda of understanding to strengthen military cooperation in September 2013, naval maneuvers and joint patrols, the establishment of the Iran-Oman Chamber of Commerce, reduction of visa regulations or visa wavering for Omani citizens in 2018 and the presence of Mohammad Javad Zarif the then foreign minister of Iran at the funeral of Qaboos and the recognition of Sultan Haitham, have been other important and effective variables on strengthening relations in the last decade.

What is clear is that although differences such as disagreement over Benjamin Netanyahus visit to Muscat in 2018, along with other challenges have also existed in the past few decades in the expansion of Iran-Oman relations, But, the increasing of cooperation and the two side’s needs to the other side’s role in the Foreign policy has led to the continuation and strengthening of relations. In fact, strengthening this trend has played an important role in regional balance, pursuing national security requirements, considerations of stability and national unity, and avoiding regional conflict between the two countries.


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