Why Treat Sudan Like a Normal Country?
Iran has made common cause with similarly nasty countries around the world to promote an anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Western agenda. This includes the transfer of weapons as well as the training of terrorists who return to their places of origin ready and able to blow themselves up. While the U.S. focuses almost exclusively on Iran's acquisition of nuclear capability, its conventional military relations with countries such as Sudan are largely ignored.
Israel doesn't have the luxury of feigned ignorance.
On 24 October, the Yarmouk arms factory in Khartoum exploded. The specific target appears to have been two buildings housing Iranian Fajr-5 rockets. It wasn't the first time weapons blew up in Sudan; in December 2011, April 2011, March 2009 and January 2009 someone took proactive measures to prevent the movement of arms from Sudan to what appeared to be their destination in the Gaza Strip. Sudan blamed Israel then and blames Israel now. "Israel is a country of injustice that needs to be deterred," Vice President Ali Osman Taha told the crowd while standing next to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Taha's words were a pointed choice.
Sudan is itself a "country of injustice." The war in Darfur is estimated to have killed between 170,000 and 460,000 people. The Khartoum government claims "only" 20,000 people died in Darfur, but UN Humanitarian Chief Jan Egeland told AP in 2008, "400,000 is probably closer to the truth." The North-South civil war is estimated to have killed nearly 2 million people and continues today despite a peace treaty and the 2011 independence of South Sudan.
Sudan is currently conducting air strikes targeting the Nuba people of South Kordofan, accusing them of supporting forces across the international border in South Sudan. Former American aid worker Ryan Boyette, who lives in the region, estimates that 300,000 people have been displaced by the air strikes, but says the death toll is unclear because the Nuba Mountain area has few, if any, roads. Such strikes, according to Human Rights Watch, may constitute war crimes.
It is unlikely to matter.
Sudan's President Bashir is already under indictment for genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court; there are two warrants for his arrest. Not one to let it bother him, Bashir has traveled extensively to countries of the African Union, the League of Arab States, and the Non-Aligned Movement, all of which simply decline to recognize the ICC's warrants.
Sudan also harbors Ahmed Haroun and Aly Koushayb. Appointed by Bashir in 2007 to "investigate" "war crimes" in Darfur, Haroun was indicted by the ICC later that year for having armed and trained the murderous Janjaweed militias and having full knowledge of atrocities committed against civilians. Despite the indictment, Haroun served as "Minister for Humanitarian Affairs" until 2009, when he was appointed Governor of South Kordofan (see "air strikes" above). Aly Koushayb -- also known as Ali Abd-Al-Rahman -- is a Janjaweed commander indicted by the ICC. Koushayb was briefly arrested by the Sudanese government, but released for "lack of evidence" and he continues to live freely in Khartoum.
The nature of the regime is important in its own right -- although really, after 40,000 dead in Syria under circumstances including air strikes and cluster bombs, is there any expectation that anyone but Israel will be called to account for civilian casualties? From the perspective of American national interests, however, lack of effective action to remove Bashir and his lieutenants allows Iran to vastly expand its conventional reach and encourage endless warfare in the region.
The U.S. has let the countries of the Arab League, the African Union, and the Non-Aligned Movement off the hook. African Union countries have received assistance from US AFRICOM to help fight Islamic terrorists; the U.S. supports the government of Bahrain as it battles Iranian-supported Shi'ites; we support Yemen against al Qaeda; we support Egypt, Bashir's planned next port of call as he views the Morsi government as an ally of his Islamic Republic.
Has the U.S. made clear -- can the U.S. make clear -- what it expects from those who expect something from us?
The administration said nothing critical of the raid on Khartoum, but it has equally said nothing critical of Sudan. The U.S. is not entirely sidelined, having been known to share intelligence information with Israel regarding Iranian ship movements and other arms-related transfers. The joint activities have been instrumental in stopping many dangerous cargoes from reaching their intended ports -- Iran is, after all, embargoed by the UN from shipping weapons out as well as bringing them in. Iran wasted no time revisiting Khartoum with its warships and unknown cargo.
But knocking off factories or striking the Hamas depots that housed the 100 or so Fajr-5 missiles that Israel missed before they got to the Gaza Strip is the back end of the problem. Finding a way to remand Omar Bashir to the ICC would not only end Sudan's depredations in the region, but it would help make clear the consequences of an alliance with Iran.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center.