Will Sudan normalise relations with Israel?
CAIRO - Efforts are under way to establish relations between Israel and Sudan, Israeli media sources reported. There was speculation that, after his visit to Oman in October, the next Arab destination for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would be Khartoum.
The Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation cited sources in Jerusalem saying Netanyahu would visit Sudan soon but did not give a date. “Israeli teams are working on building relations with this African republic,” it said.
There have been signs of a change in Sudan’s foreign policy in recent years and Sudanese officials have expressed a desire to normalise relations with Israel.
On August 20, 2017, Minister of Investment Mubarak al-Fadil al-Mahdi publicly supported doing so on Sudanese TV Channel 24. “The Palestinians themselves have normalised relations with Israel and even Hamas is talking to Israel,” Mahdi said.
Former Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour offered in January 2016 to normalise relations with Israel if the US government lifted economic sanctions.
The Sudanese diplomatic effort comes when Netanyahu has said Israel was seeking “to reach the heart of Africa,” referring to improved relations between African countries and Israel.
The Israeli prime minister made that statement at a news conference with Chadian President Idriss Deby in Tel Aviv. Deby was on his first visit to Israel in November after a break in relations between the two countries that had lasted for more than 46 years.
Netanyahu welcomed Deby’s visit as an “additional diplomatic achievement.”
The international community has long regarded Sudan as a rogue state in view of the policies pursued by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, including supporting extremist Islamist groups and embracing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s before forcing him to leave under pressure from American sanctions.
The strong relationship between Sudan and Iran was also a reason for international discontent with Khartoum, especially because Tehran was using it as a conduit for sending weapons to organisations loyal to it, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
The al-Bashir regime’s policies have cost Sudan much because of the resulting international isolation and economic deterioration. The Sudanese government continues to encounter great difficulties in dealing with the economic crisis because of being blacklisted as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Sudan severed ties with Iran in 2015, expressing a desire to contribute to the international war on terrorism, combat illegal immigration and help resolve conflicts, especially those in its vicinity, including in South Sudan.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz pointed out that, against the background of Khartoum’s decision on its relations with Iran, Israel urged the United States and other countries to improve ties with Sudan.
Washington lifted economic sanctions against Sudan in 2017 but it did not remove the Sudanese regime from its blacklist.
Observers said indicators suggest informal channels of communication between Sudan and Israel, although it is difficult to determine how much progress has been made and whether the discussions will lead to normalisation of relations between the two sides.
Observers point out that the Sudanese regime is known for its pragmatism and that it would not be surprising if steps were taken towards normalisation with Israel, despite the public refusal of Abdel-Saki Abbas, a leading figure in al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress party. He said Netanyahu “cannot visit Sudan and (that) what was announced on the Israeli radio is baseless.”