The United States has struck a strategic port deal with Oman.
Over the weekend, the U.S. embassy in Oman said in a statement that the agreement granted the U.S. access to facilities and ports in the towns of Duqm as well as in Salalah, which sit on the coast of the Arabian Sea. Embassy officials noted that the port deal “reaffirms the commitment of both countries to promoting mutual security goals.”
The deal seems to be mutually beneficial for both countries. The deal serves Oman’s plans to develop Duqm, which was once just a fishing village 550 kilometers south of capital Muscat, which leaders have long sought to transform into an industrial hub.
The U.S. however has more pressing concerns in the context of the deal.
American interests are served in two ways by the recent port agreement. First, U.S. ships will have better access to the Persian Gulf region and avoid sending ships through the Strait of Hormuz, a maritime choke point that Iran could easily block using its advanced missile arsenal. Long seen as Iran’s trump card in any future conflict with the West, the Islamic Republic’s leverage over the Strait has long been a point of concern for the U.S. The new ports will substantially diminish the effects any Iranian move against the Strait would have.
The second point has to do with more tactical considerations as far as preparing for regional conflict. Located strategically at the opening to the Persian Gulf, and with its eastern border facing the Arabian Sea, Oman is uniquely positioned to provide access to the Gulf region in the event of a war. Not only does the agreement give the U.S. maritime facilities in this important area, the recent deal gives the American military’s access to ports that connect to a network of roads to the broader area.
Oman of course is completely on board with the U.S. plans. While often lauded as a regional peacemaker and one of the Arab nations with close ties to Tehran, Oman’s leader Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has a history of plotting against the Iranian regime going all the way back to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. When Iran’s revolutionary sentiments became too much to bare, Qaboos had seriously considered attacking Iran. With Iran showing no signs of reconciling with the West, and an Iranian proxy war raging to his south in Yemen, it seems that once again, Qaboos is taking a stance to curb Iran’s influence in the region.