Sudan: From Islamic terror base to Israel's ally

Chairman of the Sovereign Council of Sudan Abdel Fattah el-Burhan  / Photo: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah, Reuters , Reuters

"Globes" charts how and why Sudan has evolved from one of Israel's most implacable enemies to a new found friend.

How did it happen that Sudan of all countries, which was the world's center for training Islamic terrorists, supported by Iran and countries looking to export Islamic terror, has been swept onto the wave normalization with Israel. Perhaps because Israel offers Sudan, one of Africa's poorest countries, a lifeline for progress and profitability.

The era of Sudanese ruler Omar al-Bashir, the army general who became president, began with a military coup in 1989, after the chaos of the civil war and under the aegis of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi set a militant Islamic tone and closer relations with Iran. In exchange, Sudan became a base for terror, training and arms smuggling. Not only organizations associated with Shi'ite Iran operated from there but also Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists found refuge in Sudan.

Terrorism was launched from Sudan against US targets such as the 1998 attacks against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 which killed more than 220 people, and the USS Cole bombing in 2000 in Aden which killed 17 American sailors. Sudan was put on the US list of countries supporting terror in 1998, and the US subsequently attacked terrorist training bases in the country.

Regarding Israel, Sudan has been an enemy state since the War of Independence, when Sudanese army battalions fought alongside Egyptian soldiers against Israel in the south. At the Arab League conference in the Sudanese capital Khartoum in 1967 the famous three 'nos' were formulated - no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel, and no negotiations with Israel. In recent decades Sudan served as a barrier for Ethiopian Jews seeking to immigrate to Israel and many died in the Sudanese deserts en route. One of the Mossad's most daring operations was setting up a Red Sea diving operation in Sudan which was an undercover transit point for bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Sudan was also a transit point for arms smuggling to Palestinian terror groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad and others. The weapons came mainly from Iran. Israel, according to foreign reports, would occasionally attack arms convoys in Sudan, on their way via Egypt and Sinai to Gaza. In 2012, an attack on an weapons manufacturing factory in Khartoum was attributed to Israel.

The change came about towards the end of al-Bashir's terms as president. He has meanwhile been declared a war criminal as part of Sudan's attempts to end sanctions and the embargo on the country, together with civil war, a grave economic crisis and widespread starvation. Al-Bashir tried to turn his back on Iran, and looked to the Gulf state for aid but his attempts failed and he was eventually ousted two years ago after demonstrations and rioting against his regime.

Cleaning out Islamic terrorist organizations

The country is now ruled by the temporary Sovereign Council headed by General Abdel Fattah el-Burhan who appointed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, an economist brought in to save the country. Over the past two years, el-Burhan has been cleaning out terrorist organizations from the country and has made major efforts to get the US to take Sudan off the list of countries supporting terror. He understood what many in the world understand that the way to persuade Washington is much easier if you have Jerusalem by your side. So after many months of secret contacts, el-Burhan met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda in February. Some Sudanese ministers were vehemently opposed to normalization with Israel and this internal dispute has not entirely been resolved. But one of the former important opponents, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, decided to join the initiative, on condition that the constitutional council, which is being set up, approved the move.

Last week US President Donald Trump announced that Sudan was being taken off the list of state supporting terrorism, and this has opened up the possibility of Sudan receiving loans and grants from international organizations such as the World Bank in order to save its economy and move forward with vital infrastructure projects. Estimates are that the agreement with the US includes reducing Sudan's debts and an economic aid package in partnership with the Gulf states. These states ( the UAE and Saudi Arabia) have been in one the secret talks from the start and have given Sudan economic and political backing on the matter.

Israel will provide projects in partnership with the Gulf states including technological knowhow in critical areas such as agriculture and water as well as other fields.

In this context, the UAE's Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq al Marri told "Globes" that his country plans developing trilateral partnerships with Israel and countries in north and east Africa including Sudan for economic projects in energy, agriculture and water.

Sudan's northern neighbor Egypt, has also been a party to these latest moves and its own interest is related to the struggle against Ethiopia's attempts to dam the Blue Nile, which flows through the three countries.

Peace with three Arab countries within two months

The importance of the agreement with Israel is clear and the achievement is very impressive. Within two months three Arab countries, one of them part of the war against Israel, have signed peace and normalization agreements. All this has been accomplished while wiping out the preconditioning of peace with Israel on a solution to the Palestinian issue. The psychological barrier has been breached and there will be more Arab states joining in. Trump promised on Friday five more Arab countries and they could include Saudi Arabia and probably states in North Africa. But all this could be effected by the fast approaching US elections and the possibility that Trump will be leaving the White House.

The Israeli achievement is highlighted by the failure of the Palestinian leadership. In the case of Sudan, in contrast to the normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain, there was not a single word in the joint statement about the Palestinian issue or the two states solution.

The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is now hearing calls from many directions to open serious discussions about the new situation but it is first of all waiting for the results of the US elections. Attempts to reconcile with Hamas and push forward with parliamentary and presidential elections are stuck.

Hamas, which has in the past received major assistance from Al-Bashir's regime in Sudan has strenuously condemned the normalization agreement with Israel and claims that Saudi Arabia is financing the compensation that Sudan must pay for the terror victims in the past.

Islamic Jihad in Gaza has accused Sudan of betraying the Palestinians. "The regime in Khartoum is putting Sudan in Israel's lap and giving it a free gift, thus writing a black page in the history of Sudan."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 25, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Chairman of the Sovereign Council of Sudan Abdel Fattah el-Burhan  / Photo: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah, Reuters , Reuters
Chairman of the Sovereign Council of Sudan Abdel Fattah el-Burhan / Photo: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah, Reuters , Reuters
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