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Israel transport minister visits Oman to promote 'tracks for regional peace'

Israeli Intelligence and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz argues that building an island nearby the Gaza Strip is a feasible option for alleviating conditions there
RONEN ZVULUN (POOL/AFP/File)
At present, only two Arab nations have full diplomatic relations with Israel: Egypt and Jordan

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz set off for Oman this week to discuss a proposal for a rail line that would connect between Israel and the gulf states, in another display of warming relations between them.

Katz will also attend an international transportation conference in Sultan, where he will present the initiative branded “Tracks for Regional Peace," Times of Israel reported.

The line is to run from the harbor of Israel’s northern city of Haifa to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states.

The initiative also contemplates a stopover in the West Bank’s Jenin, promising a peaceful coexistence with Palestinians and other regional partners.

“Let’s keep the dialogue going. These efforts support our efforts,” US Ambassador to Israel Jason Greenblatt wrote in a Tweet, describing the move as a "dramatic development that may influence many countries in the region."

Katz's office celebrated this as the first time the US publicly and officially endorsed” his project.

While Israel does not have official diplomatic relations with Oman or other gulf states, there has been reportedly enhanced contact and cooperation between the countries, in contrast to Iran’s push to mobilize its shiite allies in the region.

Netanyahu held surprise talks last month with Oman's Sultan Qaboos in Muscat -- accompanied by the head of Mossad.

Greenblatt also praised the strengthening of relations between Israel and Oman.

“In recent days, we have seen our regional partners Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates issuing announcements and moves to signal warmer relations with Israel,” Greenblatt said, adding that better relations between the Jewish state and surrounding Arab nations would produce a more stable and prosperous Middle East.

Days later, controversial Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev toured the UAE's famed Sheikh Zayed mosque, Israel's communications minister Ayoub Kara spoke in Dubai and the Israeli national anthem played at a judo competition in Abu Dhabi.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly visited Oman only days before Netanyahu’s clandestine trip and an Omani envoy visited Ramallah following Israel's visit to the Gulf country.

And while Israel's attempt to woo this region has been a long time in the making, analysts say, the tussle between Iran on the one hand and the United States, Israel and Gulf on the other has propelled the talks to new, and public, heights.

Gulf states have held clandestine talks with Israel for decades, going back to at least the early 1980s. Arab leaders have not, however, historically publicized talks over fears of a public backlash over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Broader policy alignment, primarily on the need to contain Iran, may have emboldened both sides to now make those talks public as Israel vows to prevent Tehran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, where Iran backs President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war.

At present, only two Arab nations have full diplomatic relations with Israel: Egypt and Jordan.

Qatar has informal ties to both Israel and rival Iran, with which it shares a gas field. Until 2000, the emirate was home to an Israeli trade representative office.

Doha also provides humanitarian assistance -- and fuel -- to the Gaza Strip, under an agreement with Israel backed by United States.

At a regional defense conference in the Bahraini capital on Friday, the Omani FM said it might be "time for Israel to be treated the same (as states in the Middle East) and also bear the same obligations" -- a statement endorsed by Bahrain.

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