Israeli team visits Sudan in push to normalise ties

Updated 23 Oct 2020

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In this August 25 file photo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands with Sudanese Gen Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the ruling sovereign council, in Khartoum, Sudan. — AP
In this August 25 file photo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands with Sudanese Gen Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the ruling sovereign council, in Khartoum, Sudan. — AP

JERUSALEM: An Israeli delegation visited Sudan on Wednesday to discuss normalising relations following the Jewish state’s US-brokered deals with UAE and Bahrain, according to sources in Khartoum and Jerusalem.

The one-day return trip has heightened speculation Israel could soon strike a peace deal with the Arab-led African country with which it is technically at war.

President Donald Trump has pushed for further deals between Israel and Muslim states traditionally hostile to it.

A chartered plane left Tel Aviv for the Sudanese capital on Wednesday, according to the specialised air traffic website Flightradar24.

Sources in Sudan and Israel confirmed that the visit had taken place on Wednesday.

“A joint American-Israeli delegation visited Khartoum yesterday” and met President Abdel Fattah al Burhan for talks on a normalisation of ties between Sudan and Israel, a Sudanese government source said.

Israeli sources had earlier said a delegation had travelled to Sudan to discuss the same issue.

The same day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped Sudan would “quickly” recognise Israel.

And on Thursday the US State Department said Pompeo had spoken by phone with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during which he “applauded ... Hamdok’s efforts to improve Sudan’s relationship with Israel and expressed hope that they would continue”. That call came after Trump had pledged to take Sudan soon off the US state sponsors of terrorism blacklist, a legacy of the era of fallen strongman Omar al Bashir.

Israel’s top-selling daily, Yediot Aharonot, reported Sudan’s post-Bashir transitional joint civilian and military government had internally agreed to normalise ties.

‘Very close’

It reported that “an agreement has been reached” between Burhan and Hamdok “who had been opposed up until now to normalising relations with Israel”. The newspaper mentioned a possible announcement by Trump “in the coming days” from Washington, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Burhan to join by video conference.

As the reports emerged, Sudan’s veteran opposition leader Sadiq al Mahdi of the National Umma Party cried foul.

In a statement, he rejected any move to normalise ties with Israel, calling it “treason” and unlawful, and added that his party would file a lawsuit against the authorities and stop its support of the government.

Netanyahu and Burhan held a landmark meeting in Uganda in February.

Israeli intelligence minister Eli Cohen was also quoted in local media as saying Israel was “very close to normalising ties with Sudan,” in comments his foreign affairs advisor Arye Shalicar confirmed.

Sudan experienced a historic shift last year as Bashir was ousted in April in the face of youth-led street protests, and it is now turning the page on decades as an international pariah.

It has launched a series of reforms, put Bashir on trial and is cooperating with the International Criminal Court to try him over his scorched-earth campaign in the Darfur region.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2020