South Sudanese President Salva Kiir’s visit to Israel ignited debate at a conference in Cairo organised this week by the Sudan and Quds (Jerusalem) committees of the Arab Doctors Union. North and South Sudan’s ambassadors to Cairo, both of whom attended the event, expressed opposing viewpoints on Kiir’s visit.
North Sudanese ambassador Kamal Ali Hassan declared that South Sudan was an independent, sovereign state that enjoyed the right to determine its own foreign policy. He said he was happy about Kiir’s visit to Israel, since it revealed the depth of the relationship – which Khartoum knew very well – between South Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement (or SPLM, which now governs the southern state) and international Zionism and Israel.
Hassan went on to recall that the southern rebel movement’s first leader, Joseph Lagu, had visited Israel to offer his services in preventing the Sudanese army from taking part in the 1967 Arab-Israel war. He said that Kiir’s recent visit was simply “the tip of the Iceberg” and – quoting Kiir’s statement to the Israelis that without Israel’s fighting for South Sudan the latter would never have been established – stressed the extent of Israeli involvement in Sudanese affairs, which was evident from Israel’s hostile policies against Egypt and Sudan.
Hassan added that Khartoum was “not disturbed” by the longstanding relationship and was dealing with it intelligently in order to preserve its national interests. He concluded by stating that South Sudan now had “bills to pay,” which was the reason for Kiir’s visit to those in the US and Israel who had supported the establishment of his state.
In response, South Sudan’s ambassador to Egypt, Fermina Mawketh Manar, emphasized his country’s desire to forge a “special relationship” with Arab countries, saying that Khartoum was always trying to distort the south’s image.
The ambassador said he was simply trying to clarify certain issues, insisting that Kiir’s recent trip to Israel had been a standard visit. He noted that North Sudanese Arab-Muslim leader Jaafar Nimeiry had been responsible for transporting Ethiopian Jews to Israel, who had later become Israeli soldiers who had fought against Arabs.
Manar also asserted that North Sudanese officials had met with their Israeli counterparts in Aqaba, Jordan, claiming that North Sudan’s anti-American and anti-Israeli stances were “just for show.” He cited claims by former North Sudanese intelligence chief Salah Quosh that Khartoum had provided the US with files on Al-Qaeda and Islamist militants.
The ambassador went on to express hope for “a strong bond” between South Sudan and the Arab states, pointing out that there was a large Muslim population in South Sudan. He said that ongoing tensions with North Sudan represented an obstacle to Arab-South Sudan relations.