Sudan and Israel: Two unexpected allies

Israel was delighted and grateful when Sudan, a large Muslim nation in Africa, joined the Abraham Accord nations in a unique normalization process initiated by President Donald Trump between moderate Arab and Muslim states and Israel.

Sudan has, for decades, been a troubled nation, particularly under the leadership of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a war criminal who seized power in a bloody coup in 1989.  He was the first head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes over mass killings, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur.

It is estimated that two million people were killed during the fifteen years of Sudan's civil war.  During the period of Bashir's rule, Sudan became a state sponsor and protector of radical Islamic terror groups.

Israel has a covert history with Sudan.  Special forces used Sudanese territory, at that time an enemy state, to airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel.  They were escaping a civil war, starvation, and persecution, and the IDF based their operation on fooling a hostile regime and their army. 

In one amazing operation, in May 1991, the IDF rescued 14,000 Ethiopians using 34 planes making forty flights over a 36-hour period, by bringing the refugees to a remote Sudanese location and airlifting them to a new life in the Jewish State. 

In 2019, Bashir was ousted from power in another military coup, but one that backed a smooth transition in power, and is currently in prison on charges of money-laundering and corruption pending his transfer to the ICC on more serious charges.

Despite the seriousness of the ICC charges against him, Bashir was protected diplomatically by the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Russia, and Iran, the last of whom was a major supplier of weapons to the Bashir regime. 

During his reign of terror, Bashir sided with Saddam Hussein against the United States.  He harbored major terrorists, including Osama bin Laden.  Bashir developed close personal relations with Hamas leaders.  Iran used Sudan as a conduit to smuggle weapons to Hamas in Gaza. 

Sudan became a hub for Hamas's illegal financial dealings, including money-laundering and their drug trade via trustees, real estate dealings, and money transfers via currency exchange bureaus. 

Sudan may be a poverty-strapped nation, but, at the time of his arrest, authorities found an estimated $130 million in various currencies in suitcases at Bashir's home. 

As the new Sudan attempts to stabilize a bankrupt economy and a divisive political past, stirring the pot is the Palestinian Authority, which is trying to make the case that confiscated Hamas assets in Sudan belong to them as the self-proclaimed representatives of the Palestinian people. 

Sudan claims they did not seize any legitimate private property, but assets that had been illegally misappropriated by Hamas under the criminal Bashir regime and rightly belong to the Sudanese people.

Now Sudan is trying to transition into a democracy.  Sudan's outreach to Israel has several advantages for a country trying to stabilize itself.  Israel is respected as the advanced intelligence, security, and military leader in the Middle East.  It is also known as a willing enabler to moderate countries that has attracted several Muslim countries to break with traditional enmity and instead link themselves with the burgeoning nation in the region. 

Sudan also knows that Israel is the gateway to the United States, which has not taken kindly to Sudan's history. 

To help in Sudan's efforts to transform into a democratic society, the United States removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism list and is on course to give Sudan $50 billion in debt relief. 

In April 2021, the Sudanese interim government canceled its Israel boycott laws. 

Sudan is interested in Israel's expertise in advanced agricultural development and solar energy expertise to help its domestic agricultural production and to modernize its energy needs.

Israel and the United States are keen to stabilize Sudan. 

It is now up to Sudan to prove it wants democratic progress and prosperity more than to exploit Israel, and more importantly the United States, as a pauper uses others to prop up bad habits.  This deception is being done by many regional actors, including the Palestinian Authority, the regional example of bad actors pretending to be paupers but unwilling to divest from corruption and support for terror.

Charity is one thing, but it must come with transparency, accountability, and results.

Barry Shaw is senior associate at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

Map credit: TUBSCC BY-SA 3.0 license.

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