Iran’s antics have largely dis­tracted everyone from the death of another more important mil­itary leader: Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said of Oman | Wiki­media Commons

Iran’s antics have largely dis­tracted everyone from the death of another more important mil­itary leader: Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said of Oman.

After a slew of events, including the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iran knocking Ukraine Inter­na­tional Air­lines flight 752 out of the sky and firing mis­siles into Iraq, many over­looked Qaboos’ death, which is a crucial devel­opment in Middle Eastern affairs. 

Washington’s response to the sit­u­ation should have been much faster, and Oman should be central to the United States’ Middle Eastern policies at the moment. 

In the 50 years that Qaboos sat on the throne, Oman didn’t make inter­na­tional head­lines very often. Of all the chaotic Middle Eastern states, it is one of the qui­etest, thanks to Qaboos’ firm hand. Though he kept a low profile, Qaboos was the only stable Arab ruler and a valuable friend to the United States and the Western World. 

After a bloodless coup in which he took the throne from his father in 1970, Qaboos mod­ernized and developed Oman to make it an important regional player. His diplomacy in the region was broad-ranging and helped keep peace in the Gulf region. Throughout his reign, he was a key advocate for Israeli-Pales­tinian peace talks, and while other Arab leaders were secret about their dealings with Jerusalem, Qaboos was open and friendly with Israel. He even wel­comed former Israeli Prime Min­ister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 and Prime Min­ister Ben­jamin Netanyahu in 2018 to Muscat, the capital city of Oman. 

Most impor­tantly, Qaboos simul­ta­ne­ously fos­tered close rela­tions with Iran and the United States, care­fully making himself a neutral inter­me­diary as he bal­anced rela­tions between the two hostile states. Over five decades, he proved himself a valuable friend to the United States, and the key to diplo­matic rela­tions between America and Iran. 

In 1980, after the American embassy takeover in Tehran, though he had close ties with Iran, Qaboos allowed the United States use the island of Masirah to stage the unsuc­cessful rescue mission for the 53 hostages from the U.S. embassy whom Iran cap­tured. In 2011, because of his leverage and ties with Iran, he facil­i­tated the release of American hikers held by Iran. Qaboos even paid $1 million for their freedom. And in 2013, Qaboos was the middle man for former pres­ident Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Com­pre­hensive Plan of Action. He allowed diplomats from the United States and Iran to secretly meet in Oman to lay the groundwork for the deal that was signed in 2015. 

Though the JCPOA was a ter­rible deal, which Trump withdrew from in 2018, deeply upsetting Qaboos, the sultan wisely kept bal­ancing the rela­tions between the United States and Iran, remaining America’s most valuable friend in the region. 

After his death, however, Wash­ington seems to have for­gotten Qaboos’ crucial friendship, assis­tance, and alliance in a tumul­tuous corner of the globe.

Caught up in Iran’s shenanigans, the United States failed to account for the impor­tance of Qaboos’ death. Sec­retary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on the phone to his Omani coun­terpart, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, after Qaboos’ passing. Then, the White House announced that “A senior U.S. del­e­gation will travel to Oman to pay our respects.” This is not enough. 

In con­trast, the U.K. appro­pri­ately responded to Qaboos’ death, imme­di­ately sending Prince Charles and Prime Min­ister Boris Johnson to offer con­do­lences. Johnson’s appearance in Oman high­lighted that the UK was paying respects not just to a fellow monarch, but to a  trusted friend of the West. The UK rightly showed their support for Oman as a key ally in the Middle East.   

In light of events over the past two weeks events and the ker­fuffle with Iran, rela­tions with Oman should be fore­front in American foreign policy. Not only has Oman been a friend to the United States, but Oman holds the key port of Duqm on the Arabian Sea. This port facil­i­tates vis­iting American air­craft car­riers and nuclear sub­marines, which gives the United States the ability to deal with any Iranian naval threats and guard Gulf oil exports. 

With Iran’s unrest and the endless insta­bility throughout the region, this is not the time for the United States to devalue Oman and the impor­tance of Qaboos’ reign. 

With Qaboos’ death, the throne passed to his cousin, now Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said. Washington’s late and flippant response to Qaboos death was inex­cusable. America still needs Oman. With a new and untested sultan on the throne, regional players will most likely begin to test Oman’s strength to see where Haitham’s loy­alties lie. 

It is crucial for the United States to start healthy rela­tions with Haitham so as to con­tinue Qaboos legacy and Oman’s key friendship with the West. 


Abby Liebing is the asso­ciate editor of The Col­legian and a columnist on Middle Eastern pol­itics. She is a senior studying history.