Friday, January 29, 2010

Is NATO going to pull out of Oman for their AWACs base? I doubt it.

Is Oman about to loose the 'temporary' base NATO have here for their AWACs [Airborne early Warning And Control system] air support operations in Afganistan and the Gulf?

Photo: NATO AWAC support for AFPAK is currently based in Oman. Are they going to make it permanent? Or leave?

BRUSSELS, Jan 28 (NNN-KUNA) — The chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, has said here that the Alliance is in discussion with a Gulf state to deploy AWACS planes for reconnaissance mission over Afghanistan in support of its ISAF mission and also for anti-piracy off Somalia.
“The Alliance is close to closing the basic issue with one of the Gulf country,” he said in reply to a question during a press conference Wednesday following a two-day meeting of NATO’S military chiefs. Di Pialo did not mention the name of the country.
“We are looking forward to be in a position to follow on the temporary deployment that we have today in Oman with a more permanent long-term deployment,” he said.

Oman is by far the most logical place for such a base - stable, safe, close to the action in Afganistan and Pakistan, good logistics, plus close to the piracy zones in the Gulf of Aden. Oman has a huge coast-line adjacent to the Gulf of Oman, and already hosts large US and UK military bases, forward war materiel storage and deployment bases, and military airports at Thumrait and Masirah Island. Why would NATO want to consider a move?

Photo: US Military Jets in Thumrait, Oman. The US and UK military have long had airbases in the country.

Contrast the reality of these massive foreign military deployments here in the Sultanate with Oman's Foreign Minter's recent statement criticising the major "trans-regional powers" [read USA] for placing their warships in the Arabian Persian gulf.

I don't know if he really used the phrase Persian Gulf or if that's just how the Iranian press transliterated it. (The descriptive term for the patch of ocean between the UAE and Iran has always been a political football)


TEHRAN, Jan 14 (NNN-FNA) Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdallah has criticized trans-regional powers for deploying their troops and naval fleets in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman as such measures run counter to international rules.
“We believe that the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman should be free seas for international navigation and no change should take place there and they should not turn these places ruled by parading fleets of warships,” bin Alawi said in a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki here on Wednesday.
He stressed that his country does not accept the presence of foreign military forces in these secure regions as he views such a move as a violation of the international rules and regulations.

It was not reported if he had his fingers crossed while making the statement. But loosing the NATO base for the AWACs would be a bit of an economic and political blow. All those troups and planes need quite a lot of costly support, almost all of it spent in Oman.

If NATO does move to the UAE or Qatar, it would be a bit of a slap to Oman.

Conversely, if the base is retained here with a long term agreement, it's hard to square that with the Foreign Minister's statement that seems to oppose such foreign deployments. Oman, not surprisingly, wants it both ways: increased trade, bi-lateral investment and military cooperation with Iran; but continued friendly and cooperative relations with the USA, including military equipment, intel and hosting those expensive bases.

With bat-shit crazy Ahmadinejad and his lethally violent repressive regime continually upping the stakes, it's increasingly difficult for Oman to square this circle. Yet Sultan Qaboos has successfully led the way in progressive regional politics and diplomacy for decades, establishing the GCC, and consistently following a pragmatic and non-reactionary policy of respectful engagement with all parties, something well summarised in the Rand corporation analysis of 1995, an analysis which holds true to this day:

To understand Oman's current foreign policy is to understand how skilled diplomacy works--how balancing interests, tolerance toward differences, and a determined search for mutual benefits can open international doors and keep them open, even during conflict. While other nations in the Middle East have been driven by ideology and short-term gains, the Sultanate of Oman has pursued its own course, holding to the belief that peaceful negotiation is essential to the overall, long-term goals of Omani security and prosperity.

It's regretable that following his Majesty's brave visit to Iran following the violent 're-election' of Ahmedinejad, things have gotten worse there, with the recent resignation of Iran's Ambassador to Norway and his urging of other ambassadors to follow suit in a telling public repudation of the legetimacy of the regime:

It was the Iranian authorities' treatment of demonstrators around Christmas which made me realise that my conscience would not allow me to continue in my job.
(it seems at least 8 protesters were shot during the protests.)

Retaining the NATO base while Oman continues to strengthen relations with Iran would be a great endorsement of Oman's pragmatic foreign policy. Given the absence of any other Western friendly regimes in the region in strategically critical geographic locations, and the pressing need for deeper bilateral cooperation between US and Oman as the civil war in Yemen goes from bad to worse, NATO would be wise to extend the arrangement for those AWACs.

I'm sure that's what will happen.

Meanwhile Oman is holding its nose and continuing to engage with Iran's despotic leadership. We must really want that gas...


  1. “We are looking forward to be in a position to follow on the temporary deployment that we have today in Oman with a more permanent long-term deployment,” he said.
    My take on that is that there is the intention to change the temporary deployment that there is today in Oman for a more permanent deployment - in Oman.
    especially given his point “There is also a role for long-range air surveillance in the fight against piracy,” (which has been creeping closer to Oman) and Oman's location re Afghanistan

  2. Oman is closer to Af-Pak arena. AWACS have massive range anyway.

    Even if the base is moved, seriously how much will Oman lose economically? I doubt it would be much or significant. Aren't Russians looking at Duqm and India building an airbase cloee to Muscat?

    BTW Oman has been asked to increase surveillance of the coasts near Salalah to monitor movement of terrorists from Karachi going into the Yemen region via Oman. The Pakistani army guys had an audience with teh HM. Things moving forward there. Oman and Pakistan are being forced to sign realtime intel agreement, both sides under US pressure. Washington has imposed a ceasefire with the Houthi's at the moment.

    I think Oman leadership is seriously looking at India for partnership, just look at the number of visits from senior officials from both sides visiting eachother.

    Good post UD.

  3. I know this was posted some time ago, but I thought this would help, for future reference.

    The pictured "US Military Jets in Thumrait, Oman" are not US Military Jets. They are SEPECAT Jaguars, most likely of the RAFO. Apart from the Indian Air Force, they are the only people left operating this aging airframe. They were developed by the British and French and the Brits withdrew them shortly after the 1991 Gulf War. The US Armed Forces have never operated this aircraft.

    There are a couple of them based at Seeb, which keep buzzing over SQU and annoying the students. The rest are, I think, based at Thumrait.


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