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Sudan - Israel Relations

Khartoum was the third Arab government to normalise relations with Israel in late 2020, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Sudan and Israel agreed to normalise relations, US President Donald Trump announced on 23 October 2020 at the White House, a move that was denounced by Palestinians as a “new stab in the back”. Trump, who is seeking re-election on November 3, sealed the agreement in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Transitional Council Head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, senior US officials said.

Trump’s decision days earlier to remove Sudan from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism paved the way for the deal with Israel, marking a foreign policy achievement for the Republican president as he sought a second term trailing behind Biden in opinion polls. Trump announced he would take Sudan, which the US designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993, off the list once it had deposited $335m it had pledged to pay in compensation. Khartoum placed the funds in a special escrow account for victims of al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it is “completely appropriate” for the US to lift the designation, given recent strides Sudan has made to transition to a civilian-led government.

According to the joint statement, Israel and Sudan plan to first open up economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture. Issues such as the formal establishment of diplomatic ties would be resolved later.

Palestinian officials reacted with dismay as Sudan became the third country to normalise relations recently, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the deal and said the only path towards peace is by resorting to international law to make Israel end its occupation of Palestinian territories.

Some Sudanese political parties have rejected the government’s decision to normalise relations with Israel, with officials saying they will form an opposition front against the agreement. Dozens of Sudanese people demonstrated in the capital Khartoum on Friday following the joint statement from Israel, Sudan and the United States on Friday saying that the two countries agreed to “end the state of belligerence between their nations”.

A statement from Sudan’s Popular Congress Party, the second most prominent component of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) political coalition, said Sudanese people are not obligated to accept the normalisation deal. “We see that our people, who are being systematically isolated and marginalised from secret deals, are not bound by the normalisation agreement,” the statement said. “Our people will abide by their historical positions and work through a broad front to resist normalisation and maintain our support for the Palestinian people in order for them to obtain all their legitimate rights.”

The 03 February 2020 meeting between Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of Sudan’s sovereign council, in Entebbe, Uganda and the subsequent announcement that the two countries will normalise relations has come as a shock.

Traditionally, Sudan had been among the Arab nations most hostile to Israel and the Sudanese public by and large retain this feeling. In 2019, the country was swept up by a revolution pushing for dignity, justice, equality and democracy – principles that contradict Israel’s neo-colonial presence in the region and its policy of colluding with dictatorial regimes. But the revolution which toppled the regime of Omar al-Bashir and led to a political transition will not succeed unless the economic situation on the ground is addressed and this US terrorism designation is one of the main obstacles to economic recovery.

Netanyahu aimed to repatriate some 4,500 Sudanese refugees who were in Israel as of 2020. Prime Minister Olmert and Egyptian President Mubarak agreed to a plan for dealing with African refugees during a 25 June 2007 summit in Sharm-al-Sheik, Egypt. The proposal reportedly included an Egyptian commitment to accept the return of all future Sudanese asylum seekers who transited Egypt en route to Israel -- with an Egyptian promise not to send them to an uncertain fate in Sudan -- and an expectation that Israel would grant refugee status to some of the Sudanese from Darfur that are already in Israel. On 19 August 2007, Israel returned 48 Africans (44 from Sudan, 3 from the Ivory Coast, 1 from Somalia) to Egypt, the first such return under what the Israelis assert to be the Olmert-Mubarak understanding.

Sudan was listed by the United States government as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 over claims of providing material support to al-Qaeda. This designation, with all international sanctions associated with it, presents a major obstacle to Sudan in accessing foreign aid and dealing with its massive national debt. The US maintains that Sudan was complicit in the 1998 terrorist attacks on its embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam which killed 224 people. At that time al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who ordered the attacks, was known to reside on Sudanese territory.

Since the 1990s, Israel had been monitoring with concern the takeover of Sudan by radical Islamic elements. Ronen Bergman wrote in Yediot 27 January 2006 that Sudan was the country in which Osama bin Laden was staying when the Mossad and a unit of IDF Intelligence planned to assassinate him. The newspaper said that Israeli intelligence had been helping investigate an attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia and came across a group of radicals based in Sudan and led by bin Laden. The newspaper said that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak threatened to take military measures against Sudan when he got wind of who was behind the assassination attempt, that Sudan subsequently gave in to the Egyptian threats, and that Iranian intelligence and bin Laden started relocating the terrorists from Sudan.

Intelligence affairs writer Ronen Bergman opined in the mass-circulation pluralist Yediot Aharonot (26 March 2009): "Since the Second Lebanon War ended -- in which we tried to show our neighbors that we had gone crazy but didn't really succeed -- something has changed in Israel. In the time that has since elapsed it turns out that not only is Israel touchy, it also has very long arms. Israel does not publicly take responsibility for actions deep in enemy territory, but if they are attributed to it in the international media, it responds with silence and a wink....

"Since the 1990s, Israel has been monitoring with concern the takeover of Sudan by radical Islamic elements and the establishment of terror organization training bases there. In recent years Sudan has become one of the preferred smuggling routes for Iranian intelligence in transferring arms from the bases of the Revolutionary Guards to Sudan and from there to Egypt to the Sinai Desert and to the tunnels under Philadelphi Road....

"The balance of terror created by the two terror attacks in Argentina in wake of the assassination of [senior Hizbullah operative Abbas] Musawi led Israel to focus on operations only against Hizbullah -- and not against its mother and father, Iran and Syria. In the recent actions attributed to Israel against the arms shipments from Iran and in Syria, there is more than a hint that this balance of terror no longer exists."

Israel Air Force carried out an attack in mid-January 2009 against a convoy of trucks in Sudan carrying arms for Hamas in Gaza. According to reports, 39 people riding in 17 trucks were killed, while civilians in the area suffered injuries. Official Israeli sources refused to confirm or deny any report of Israel's involvement in an air strike in Sudan. Israel Radio cited the U.S. GovernmentQs ignorance of the alleged raid. However, Ha'aretz quoted Sudanese State Minister for Highways Mabrouk Mubarak Saleem as saying on the Paris-based Sudan Tribune Web site as saying that a "major power bombed small trucks carrying arms, burning all of them."

Three airstrikes carried out in March 2009 destroyed a convoy of trucks in western Sudan reportedly carrying long-range Iranian missiles to the Gaza Strip. A mysterious explosion in the Yarmouk weapons plant in Khartoum in October 2012, which killed four people, was also believed to be the result of an Israeli airstrike targeting arms destined for Hamas.

A large explosion in a Sudanese ammunition warehouse July 2014 was the result of an Israeli attack targeting weapons intended for Hamas, and not a fire, as claimed by the government. Sudanese Intelligence had claimed that the explosion, which took place in a military training camp in Al-Gaili, north of the capital Khartoum, early Friday morning, was caused by “a local fire.” A Sudanese army spokesman, A-Sawarmi Khaled Sa’ad, said the explosion had no connection to “external hands, or a domestic act of sabotage.”

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 17:57:47 ZULU