OMAN AS PEACEMAKER: Living Next to a Nearly-One-Year-Old War in Yemen By Kevin Stoda, in Salalah, Oman
One Middle East paper, Al Monitor, has asked, "Can Oman help Saudis save face in Yemen?Nine months after launching Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudis find themselves entrenched in a humiliating quagmire while extremists such as the Islamic State (IS) are proving to be the only victors in Yemen's civil war. The kingdom has received strong criticism from the international community and human rights groups, which accuse Saudi Arabia of carrying out war crimes against Yemeni civilians. Moral costs aside, the expensive military campaign has also exacerbated Riyadh's financial crisis."
As most readers know, Oman's neighboring country of Yemen has been under siege from Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners since late March 2015. In the interim, the USA has sold record numbers of weaponry to the Saudi Kingdom over the past year. Saudi and its other coalition partners (Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, UAE, Jordan, Sudan, Qatar and Bahrain) entered the Yemeni Civil War just as the Sultan of Oman was recovering from cancer treatment, which he had undertaken in Germany.
Until recently, Oman had been considered the staunchest USA supporter in the region, but in the past year, Omani tastes for the USA military overreach in the Gulf has led to a cooling. It is rumored that the USA base in Thumrait, Oman--less than 100 kilometers from the Yemen border--will soon be closed. Oman has been the only major peacemaker in the Middle East for some time. It recently aided the USA in settling the nuclear issue with Iran and has allowed Iran to rejoin regional and global trading agreements.
Oman has often been quietly active in negotiations with other warring states and peoples in the past. The Sultan of Oman spearheaded the idea of regional police and military force cooperation in the Arabian Peninsula over a quarter of a century ago. However, Oman refused in 2015 to join its warring neighbors--including the other 5 members of the Gulf Cooperation Council-- in Yemen and has, instead, offered primarily only humanitarian relief to the many Yemeni victims of war. UNICEF has recently declared that over 10 million Yemeni children are to be seen as victims of war. many of these are starving and shell-shocked--if not injured. The Omani government says that it has helped "nationals from 48 countries" leave Yemen and return to their home countries, and that it had taken in 2,695 refugees from Yemen as of mid-April 2015.
"Desperate for a dignified exit from Yemen, the [Saudi) kingdom has turned to its neighbor Oman for a political solution to the worsening crisis. Ultimately, this plan might be Riyadh's most realistic means of saving face in Yemen." According to Al Monitor, "Since the launch of Operation Decisive Storm, Oman has hosted representatives from many factions in the civil war. In May, US State Department officials held secret talks in Muscat with a Houthi delegation, and Houthi representatives met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and with GCC officials. Omani officials have also secured the release of Western civilians detained in Yemen by militant groups."
In contrast to Saudi Arabia's bellicose approaches in Syria and Yemen over the past, most Arabs view Oman's policies as much more mature and in line with everyone's long term interests. Al Monitor writes, "Oman's mature and far-sighted response to the Houthi takeover of Sanaa underscored Muscat's understanding of Yemeni history, where no fighting force has ever been able to seize control of the entire nation. Conflict resolution in Yemen will require a power-sharing agreement in which all sides have a voice at the table, rather than a military campaign aimed at crushing the Houthi rebel movement.
To this end, Muscat has maintained its neutrality throughout the conflict and has been committed to advancing peace talks." Writers for Al Monitor wisely note that it is in Oman's short and long-term interest to have more peace and stability in neighboring Yemen. It's hesitance to join Saudi Arabia and its over-anxious warrior friends in attacking and invading Yemen in 2015, will enable Oman to act as peacemaker if Saudi figures out how to leave the mess and destruction it has created in Yemen through its unwise tactics of late.
In short, "[A]lthough Oman's independent foreign policy, which has operated outside the framework of the GCC, has been an irritant for the Saudis on past occasions, officials in Riyadh may come to be grateful for the Omani wisdom that led Muscat to avoid joining Operation Decisive Storm. That Saudi Arabia, the wealthiest Arab country and the world's top arms importer, cannot defeat an insurgency from the most underserved region of the poorest Arab country is a source of humiliation." Al Monitor concludes by stating, "The Saudis would be wise to take advantage of the diplomatic avenue that Oman offers Riyadh at this difficult juncture. Surely, continuation of this conflict will not benefit the long-term interests of the Saudis, Yemenis or Omanis."
Sadly, wisdom in Saudi Arabia is still lacking as bombings of Sana'a and other parts of Yemen continue to destroy the lives of thousands and millions.