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Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Weighing Sudan-Israel relations

What kind of peace can Tel Aviv enjoy with Sudan, and what benefits would Sudan garner in return?

Haitham Nouri , Thursday 27 Aug 2020
Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. (Reuters)

For decades Khartoum has abided by the “three no’s” against Israel: “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” Despite the mantra it kept repeating since the 1967 Arab League Summit, Khartoum didn’t refrain from establishing relations with Israel when it was negotiating with the US during the last few years of the rule of its Islamist-oriented, toppled president Omar Al-Bashir.

At present, Khartoum and its officials are making juxtaposing statements and actions. The most recent of these was the sacking of the Spokesman for Sudan’s Foreign Ministry Haider Badawi Sadek, a day after telling the media Sudan is getting ready to sign an agreement with Israel to normalise relations between the two countries.

After leaving office, Sadek said he didn’t regret his statement and that he was looking forward to “visiting Israel soon”.

Acting Foreign Minister Omar Qamareddin Ismail said the government was surprised by Sadek’s statement, adding that relations between Sudan and Israel have not been discussed in the ministry. “No one tasked [Sadek] with making statements on this matter,” said Ismail.

“That not one Sudanese official denied the statements of the head of the Israeli intelligence made me deduce that the state is heading towards normalisation [with Israel]. This is the reason I made the statement, which the [foreign] ministry later denied,” Sadek tweeted. “Respect your people and tell them what goes on in the dark about relations with Israel,” he also said.

The recent incident comes months after the meeting that took place between Sudan Chairman of the Sovereign Council Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan and Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel’s statements following the meeting were joyous and optimistic and Sudan hadn’t shown its usual utter rejection of Israel nor raised the “three no’s” principle.

Sudan justified the meeting between Al-Burhan and Netanyahu by saying it was held to answer Sudan’s national security demands, in reference to its desire to be checked off the US list of countries harbouring terrorism and to receive aid and investment its plummeting economy needs.

Sudan has been suffering the depletion of foreign currency following the secession of oil-rich South Sudan. US sanctions, imposed since the 1990s, compounded the matter even further. That and corruption, mismanagement and civil wars that terminated prospects for Sudan’s development in the near future.

Sadik Al-Mahdi, head of the National Umma Party and Sudan’s prime minister from 1986 to 1989, is one of many in Sudan who believe that “relations between Sudan and Israel is the elected government’s affair”, meaning it’s not up to premier Abdallah Hamdok’s government to decide on the matter, being a transitional not an elected government.

Al-Mahdi, who has authored about 100 Islamic books, sees that relations with Israel are not going to be of benefit to the economy and politics of Sudan, nor will normalisation attract investment or aid.

Sudanese public opinion is not that extreme, however, said Rasha Awad, founder and editor-in-chief of the Sudanese The Change website.

“The Sudanese mood has changed. Opponents of peace with Israel are no longer the absolute majority, but they can’t be described as a minority either,” she said.

“The majority of the Sudanese still reject peace with Israel, but they are divided between the Islamists who were overthrown by the revolution and other conservative parties,” Awad added.

“Moreover, supporters of peace with Israel in Sudan have become stronger due to their relationship with the West during their long stay outside Sudan and the Western funding of Sudanese civil society,” she continued.

Sudan’s social media neither reflected popular anger against the statements of the sacked Foreign Ministry spokesman nor has seen many posts that delved into the benefits Sudan may garner from its relationship with Israel.

Surprisingly, however, both the supporters and opponents of peace with Israel made no mention of the Palestinians.

“Sudan-Israel relations will not normally benefit the Palestinians. No government can make such a statement because it is rejected on the popular level,” said Awad.

Sudan-Israel relations are not in their onset. They started during the rule of President Jaafar Numeiri in the early 1980s when he met with then Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon at the funeral of Anwar Al-Sadat, according to Sharon’s memoirs.

Numeiri and Sharon met again in 1982 to discuss moving Falasha Jews from Marxist Ethiopia to Israel. The operation was known at the time by the name “Saba.” Numeiri had to cease the operation when it was exposed. Yet he resumed it under pressure of the vice president of George Bush Sr, during a visit to Sudan. Numeiri agreed to resume the operation on the condition the Jews be taken to a European country before travelling to Israel.

After the fall of Numeiri during the popular Ramadan intifada of 1985, Sudanese regime officials were charged with participating in Operation Saba, among other charges. The operation was Sudan’s first departure from one of the “three no’s” it announced at the Arab League Summit held in its capital following the 1967 defeat. After the announcement of the Khartoum Resolution at the summit, Arab leaders hailed the “three no’s” principle and Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser was received in Sudan with massive popular support. Weeks later Sudan was engaged in military efforts. It received an Egyptian military school in Khartoum and an air base away from the reach of the Israeli Airforce.

The Sudanese gave their all from June 1967 to October 1973, but it is not the same anymore. “At those glorious moments, Sudan, the Arabs, Africans and the entirety of the Third World stood as one. Visions and stances have changed though. Honestly, Israel is no longer isolated, but it is not entirely engaged with world countries,” said Awad.

It is true that Israel is present in Africa. But this presence pales in comparison to the Chinese, French and, more recently, Egyptian presence. Moreover, Tel Aviv still lacks the votes of African and Third World countries at the UN.

Maybe Israel is exhibiting a heavier presence in Asia, but it is still restricted to the technology sector and has not expanded to the research centres Israel is famous for because many Asian countries have better universities.

In the Arab world, meanwhile, the most Israel can get are peace deals without normalisation.

Tel Aviv can’t level with Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo that have advanced heavy industries, and it is not on a par with Russia and Europe that are major exporters of wheat and leading arms producers.

In addition, Israel’s financial system is limited, and so is its experience in the construction sector, which is far smaller than that of some developing countries.

Peace with Israel is merely a political peace to pacify the US and is not to be built upon, said Awad.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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