Sudan and Israel agree to tie the knot

Sudanese Prime Minister and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo (AFP)

Tamara Nassar

The Electronic Intifada  /  October 23, 2020

Sudan has agreed to fully normalize relations with Israel.

The agreement, which came as no surprise, was sealed in a phone call on Friday between President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sudan’s transitional government leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The call was held in the presence of reporters in the Oval Office.

Trump made no secret that he hoped the deal would secure him a political advantage in the final stretch of the US election campaign, in which polls show him trailing badly.

“Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi?” Trump asked the Israeli prime minister, using a derogatory reference to Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Netanyahu replied, “Mr. President, one thing I can tell you is we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America and we appreciate what you’ve done enormously.”

With an audible stress on the word anyone, Netanyahu gave a cautious answer that showed he was already looking ahead to the very real possibility that Israel will be dealing with a new occupant in the White House come January.

Officials from the three countries will meet in coming weeks to discuss cooperation agreements on agriculture, technology, aviation and migration, according to a joint statement from the US, Israel and Sudan.

The normalization appears to be part of a larger deal to remove Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism and bring it firmly into the American fold.

Trump announced on Monday that he would remove Sudan from the list in exchange for $335 million in compensation for American casualties of al-Qaeda attacks.

Sudan deposited the money on Thursday, and Trump notified Congress of his intention to remove Sudan from the list.

Sudan has been on the list since 1993, and the only other countries now on it are Syria, North Korea and Iran.

In a tweet on Friday, Hamdok thanked Trump for moving to remove Sudan from the list, but made no direct mention of the agreement with Israel.

Sudan attempted to downplay what is almost certainly a very unpopular step among the Sudanese population, which has a strong tradition of solidarity with Palestinians.

“What happened today was an agreement to normalize and not normalization,” the Sudanese foreign minister reportedly said, adding that normalization will happen after the formation of a legislative council and new government.

Palestinians across the political spectrum condemned the agreement.

Trump said that more countries will conclude deals with Israel, adding that he expects Saudi Arabia to be among them.

In a recent interview with Saudi-owned television channel Al Arabiya, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, a former intelligence chief who previously spent decades as the Saudi ambassador in Washington, slammed the Palestinian leadership for its “failures.”

“The Palestinian cause is a just cause, but its advocates are failures and the Israeli cause is unjust, but its advocates have proven to be successful,” he said.

Prince Bandar’s covert collusion with Israel – including supporting Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon – goes back years.

Making the deal

Earlier this week, an American-Israeli delegation flew from Tel Aviv to Khartoum to discuss ending “the state of belligerence” between the two countries, Israeli journalist Barak Ravid reported Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

Sudanese officials later confirmed the trip.

Those aboard the plane included Ronen Peretz, director-general of the Israeli prime minister’s office and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, according to Ravid.

Officials from Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, were also part of the delegation according to newspaper Israel Hayom.

In August, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew on the first known direct flight between Israel and Sudan.

Pompeo was there to “express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship,” the US State Department said.

US, Emirati and Sudanese officials reportedly met in Abu Dhabi in September to discuss Khartoum forming diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for US economic aid to Sudan.

It looks like such a deal is coming together.

A Sudanese diplomat also attended the White House signing ceremony in September when Emirati and Bahraini ministers signed normalization agreements with Netanyahu.

Decades of ties

Formal diplomatic relations between Israel and Sudan come as no surprise.

Covert relations between the two countries trace back to the 1950s, as Columbia University professor Joseph Massad has written.

In recent years, Israel lobbied the US to improve its ties to Sudan, even while Sudan’s president at the time Omar al-Bashir was wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court.

Israel reportedly saw Sudan as a potential ally against Iran. The removal of al-Bashir following popular protests last year paved the way for Sudan and Israel to consummate their ties.

Al-Burhan and Netanyahu already met earlier this year.

“When I met chairman Burhan in Uganda in Africa eight months ago, I hoped we could reach this day,” Netanyahu said during the Oval Office press conference on Friday.

Netanyahu added that it took Trump’s team as well as “the courage of the leaders of Sudan” for this to be achieved.

In a video addressed to Israelis on Friday, Netanyahu said that “Sudanese airspace is now open to Israel,” adding that this allows for “shorter, direct flights between Israel, Africa and South America.”

But Sudan had reportedly already agreed to this earlier this year, following the Uganda meeting.

Netanyahu’s warm words for Sudanese leaders contrast with the virulent anti-Black racism in Israel, especially directed at Sudanese asylum seekers.

Likud lawmaker and minister of transportation, Miri Regev, has previously said that the “Sudanese are a cancer in our body” and “we will do everything to bring them back to their place of origin.”

Regev later apologized to cancer victims for comparing them to Africans.

This was an example of regular racist incitementmob rampages and racist government policies against refugees and migrants from African states in Israel.

Netanyahu also previously boasted of his efforts to deport African refugees.

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada