Oman security gets a boost in Soviet-urged moderation

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The Soviet Union is encouraging its strongest ally on the Arabian Peninsula to take a more moderate stance in relations with Oman and the other pro-Western states in the oil-rich Gulf.

Western analysts point to an accord signed in November by pro-Soviet South Yemen and pro-West Oman as a step in this direction. The accord established more friendly relations between the two countries.

The security and stability of Oman is of importance to the West and Japan because of its strategic position on the Strait of Hormuz.

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From 1967 to 1975 South Yemeni-supported Marxist insurgents attempted to overthrow Oman's pro-Western government. Some analysts saw this as part of a larger plan to spread socialism to the other kingdoms and sheikhdoms in the Gulf.

With help from Britain and the Shah of Iran, the Sultan of Oman's government defeated the insurgency in 1975. However, relations between Oman and South Yemen have remained hostile as South Yemen continued to aid the People's Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO), which has retained guerrilla bases in South Yemen near the Omani border. The PFLO has been largely inactive since 1975.

Western analysts say the Soviets have encouraged South Yemen to normalize its relations with Oman in part because Moscow hopes to establish diplomatic links with the conservative states in the region. South Yemen's previous aggressive behavior and rhetoric toward Oman were a barrior to this goal. But now the Soviets hope to be more successful.

In addition, analysts say, Moscow is hoping this normalization agreement will induce the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to give development assistance to South Yemen, which is economically troubled. This would allow Moscow to reduce its financial commitment to South Yemen.

Both Oman and the GCC (which was instrumental in bringing about November's Oman-South Yemen accord) hope the benefits of the accord will induce South Yemen to become less dependent on the Soviets. They also hope this will make it more in South Yemen's interest to maintain friendly relations with the conservative states in the peninsula.

Even with the normalization agreement signed, officials in Oman fear that South Yemen desires peace with Oman only to obtain large-scale economic aid from the GCC states. They are concerned that the South Yemenis would use this to build up their economy and military in order to more easily work for the overthrow of the Omani sultan's government later.

Although it is too early to tell how successful the normalization agreement will be, one positive sign is that South Yemen has not allowed the PFLO to make broadcasts over Aden radio since the agreement was announced. Previously, South Yemen allowed the PFLO regularly to transmit revolutionary appeals to Oman. Thus , it appears that South Yemen is seriously committed to improving its relations with Oman, at least for the present.

According to officers in the Sultan of Oman's armed forces, South Yemen would not present a serious military threat to Oman even if the normalization agreement had not been signed. At a briefing in Salalah, near the South Yemen border, an Omani Army officer said Aden keeps only three out of 13 brigades in the eastern part of the country. The other 10 are kept near the capital and along the border between South Yemen and North Yemen. In addition, the effectiveness of all three South Yemeni armed services has suffered from poor training, old equipment, low morale, and chronic absenteeism.

With regard to Iran, officials in Muscat do not see revolutionary Iran as a friendly power, but they do not regard it as a significant threat either. Iran's armed forces are currently bogged down in the war with Iraq. Iran has not shown interest in hindering the oil traffic of the Strait of Hormuz through which Iranian oil must pass as well.

Further, Iran's revolutionary Islamic ideology appears to have made no impact in Oman. An estimated 2 percent of Oman's population are Shiite Muslims (the same sect as Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini).

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