http://almashareq.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_am/features/2019/03/14/feature-02

Security |

Oman maintains neutral position on Yemen

By Sultan Abdul-Aziz in Muscat and Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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An Omani Navy vessel patrols the sultanate's territorial waters. [Photo courtesy of Omani Army Morale Guidance Directorate]

As conflict continues to roil neighbouring Yemen, the sultanate of Oman has maintained its stalwart support for efforts to bring all parties to the negotiating table to end the crisis and restore calm, experts and strategy analysts said.

The establishment of peace and stability in Yemen is in Oman’s interest, they said, as tensions across the border place tremendous pressure on its security.

Maintaining security in the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea is also a priority for the Omani government, they said, noting that to this end, Omani forces have been working to ensure sea routes are not used for illegal activity, such as arms smuggling from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to the Houthis (Ansarallah).

"Any discussion of Oman’s interception of arms shipments from Iran to the Houthis must be based on official statements issued by Omani forces," strategy expert and analyst Khalfan bin Rashed told Al-Mashareq.

Without official confirmation from the armed forces, not much can be said on this matter, he said, "but what is certain is that Oman has not and will not allow the passage of any weapons, whether by sea or border crossings with Yemen".

"Some international arms smuggling gangs may use trucks with Omani plates, but that does not mean that they are affiliated with the sultanate," he said.

Neither is Oman’s maritime border the only route Yemen-bound smugglers attempt, he added, noting that some arms shipments are sent via Somalia, and from there across the Red Sea and international waters to Yemeni ports.

"[Arab] coalition forces know very well that Oman is not a party to any armed conflict, and does not take sides with one party against another, and has excellent relations with all countries," he said.

This enables the sultanate "to be a neutral and even-handed side that can be trusted in the search for peaceful solutions to end the deteriorating situation in Yemen", he added.

Oman seeks regional stability

Rumours that arms have been smuggled from Iran into Yemen via the Omani border are not based on any evidence, political analyst Seif bin Hamad told Al-Mashareq.

"Oman is keen on spreading peace in the region and it is not in its interest to turn a blind eye to illegal activity," he said, adding that Omanis "do not barter away peace in the region".

He noted that the sultanate has "hosted many meetings between the [warring] parties in order to find solutions to alleviate the suffering of Yemenis in many aspects of their lives, including health, security, food and education".

Oman also has been helping to provide treatment to those who have been wounded in Yemen, he added, treating some in its own hospitals and sending others abroad for treatment at its own expense.

This is a role "that is appreciated by both Yemenis and the international community", he said.

The sultanate is keen to see stability in the Gulf region, said Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Oman's Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs.

"We firmly believe in the necessity of the establishment of stability, and nothing more, because anything other than the achievement of stability will lead to all of us in the Gulf losing," he had said in previous statements to the press.

"Oman is capable of securing its maritime and land borders effectively and capably, and everyone knows that," said a senior Omani security source, who spoke with Al-Mashareq on background.

"In the event of any breach, our forces will be ready to respond immediately."

"We do not seek to cause tension in the region, and it is not in our values to create a media fuss that is of no benefit and does not lead to finding solutions that support our brothers in Yemen or help restore calm in their country," he said.

Confronting arms smuggling

"Oman is a country that maintains balance and operates in accordance with the policy of positive neutrality to remain acceptable to all parties," Yemeni political researcher Adnan al-Humairi told Al-Mashareq.

Some media outlets have reported the smuggling of weapons through Oman to the Houthis, he said, but these reports have been refuted by the Omani authorities.

"A state like Oman generally cannot facilitate the smuggling of arms," he said, noting however that this could be difficult to enforce as "Yemen and Oman share long maritime and land borders".

"The issue of arms smuggling to the Houthis took on geopolitical dimensions after it was reported that some weapons were smuggled through Oman, ignoring the fact that Yemen has a long coastline that opens onto the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea," said Yemeni political researcher Yassin al-Tamimi.

This coastline is supposedly controlled by the Arab coalition, he told Al-Mashareq, adding that in his assessment of the situation, Oman has been very careful to remain a neutral party to the conflict in Yemen.

Addressing the sultanate's potential role in intercepting arms shipments to the Houthis from the elite Quds Force of Iran's IRGC (IRGC-QF), he said, "Oman is certainly doing its utmost to contain any further escalation of the crisis and the war in Yemen, which is a clear Omani policy".

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