Analysis, Africa

Analysis: Is Khartoum slouching towards Tel Aviv?

Recent comments by Sudanese FM raise questions about future of Khartoum's relations with Israel

28.02.2016 - Update : 09.05.2016
Analysis: Is Khartoum slouching towards Tel Aviv?

By Mohammed Amin


Controversy erupted in Sudan last month when the country’s foreign minister was quoted as saying that Khartoum had no objection to establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.

Sudanese officials have since dismissed the idea, reiterating Khartoum’s commitment to the Palestinian cause. Nevertheless, the incident served to raise questions about the future of Sudanese-Israeli relations.

In 1967, after a war that saw Israel occupy the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights, Khartoum hosted an Arab Summit that adopted a hardline stance against the expansionist Jewish state.

Known as "the three no’s", summit participants declared their collective refusal to make peace with, recognize or negotiate with Israel.

Almost 50 years later, Arab states -- with the exception of Egypt and Jordan -- still refuse to formally recognize Israel in the absence of a just solution to the Palestine issue.

Although Sudan was never a "confrontation state" in the historical Arab-Israeli conflict, not only does it refuse to recognize Israel, but it also forbids its citizens from traveling there. Every Sudanese passport bears the words, "Dealing with all countries except for Israel".

Nevertheless, at a January symposium in Khartoum, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour, answering questions about U.S. preconditions for lifting sanctions on Khartoum by normalizing ties with Israel, said: "We don't mind studying such a proposal".

Not long afterward, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan told the Times of Israel that Tel Aviv hoped to establish ties with as many countries as possible, including Sudan.

When asked about the issue later, however, Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig told Anadolu Agency that Ghandour’s comments about possible normalization had been taken "out of context".


Still, some observers believe there has been a shift in Sudan’s diplomatic approach to Israel.

The issue reportedly came up last November at a meeting of Sudan’s foreign relations committee, convened at the request of President Omar al-Bashir.

And in 2011, whistleblower WikiLeaks published what it said were leaked diplomatic cables indicating that Khartoum -- as far back as 2008 -- had conveyed a desire to normalize ties with Israel.

According to the cables, proposals to this effect were discussed at a meeting that year between Mustafa Osman Ismail, an advisor of al-Bashir, and Alberto Fernandez, the then-charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum.

Notably, the Israeli media has recently reported that Saudi Arabia was quietly building intelligence, military, diplomatic and economic ties with Israel, as both prepare to deal with an increasingly assertive Iran.

The Israeli media expects Sudan to follow suit, especially considering that Khartoum -- following Riyadh’s lead -- severed ties with Iran in early January after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was ransacked by Iranian protesters.

Sudanese political analyst Salah Aldoma told Anadolu Agency that Khartoum was looking to improve its economic situation "by any means" -- even if that meant breaking its longstanding ties with Tehran and joining the Saudi-led anti-Iran axis.

Political analyst Faisal Mohamed Salih, however, believes that Sudan’s Islamist government cannot afford to alienate its support base by normalizing relations with the Jewish state.

"Sudan’s anti-Israeli policy is deeply rooted in Sudan," Salih told Anadolu Agency. "It can't be easily reversed."

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