Scent of an Oman

The Sultanate Moves Toward the Saudis

Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah at a meeting of Gulf state officials in Riyadh, December 2015. Faisal Nasser / Reuters

Recent reports that Oman had joined the Saudi-led collation to fight terrorist groups, including the Islamic State (ISIS), took many by surprise. In an increasingly polarized Gulf region, relations between Oman and Saudi Arabia had been tense over the Sultanate’s continued ties to Iran and its recent refusal to join several key Gulf security arrangements and efforts. Muscat’s decision to sign on to Riyadh’s Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) was thus read as a sign that Oman was ready to shift politically, military, and economically toward its neighbor to the west and that Saudi Arabia was gaining the upper hand in the region. In reality, however, the move does not represent a swing in Omani policy. It is actually a continuation of the country’s decades-long strategy of balancing between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia spearheaded the creation of IMAFT in December 2015. The alliance

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