Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited Oman and met with its ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said. Among other things, they most likely discussed the fact that Iran has been using Qaboos’s country to smuggle arms to Yemen. Nicole Salter writes:
Since the Yemeni conflict broke out in 2015, U.S. warships have intercepted several Iranian weapons shipments intended for the Houthi rebels there. Likewise, the Saudi-led coalition opposing the Houthis has worked to disrupt Iran’s maritime supply routes along Yemen’s western coastline, near Houthi-controlled territory. [But] much of Iran’s arms smuggling into Yemen occurs through overland routes from Oman. . . . Saudi and Yemeni officials suspect that weapons have been stored at the Salalah airport in [the Omani city of] Dhofar and on small islands off the coast, and then are smuggled [across the border] to Yemen.
There is no evidence of Omani authorities assisting Tehran in its weapons smuggling, although Saudi and Yemeni officials believe Muscat has overlooked pro-Houthi activity in Dhofar. . . . Oman has a history of lax enforcement. When Iran was under severe sanctions prior to the 2015 nuclear deal, Omanis living in the coastal town of Khasab were known to ferry goods across the Strait of Hormuz to the Iranian island of Qeshm. . . .
Oman has cultivated a reputation as a neutral mediator of conflicts in the region. Following the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), it mediated talks to restore ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia. During the Obama administration, Oman served as a back channel for nuclear negotiations with Iran. Since the Yemen conflict began, Oman has negotiated the release of hostages and is now set to host a new round of talks to find a “peaceful and political solution to the conflict. . . .” Neutrality is acceptable, but not at the expense of illegal arms trafficking.