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Sudan coup threatens normalization with Israel

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France, the United States, the African Union and other international bodies have all reacted strongly to the news from Sudan of a military coup. Israel, on the other hand, has remained silent. The Israeli media did not even get quotes from anonymous diplomats.

The stakes for Israel are high. israeli journalist Barak Ravid tweeted on October 25 that several elements of the Israeli government have recently been involved in one way or another in Sudan’s domestic politics. “This raises big questions about what Israel knew about what is happening in Khartoum now and how its actions have affected what is happening now,” he noted.

Although he did not say that Jerusalem encouraged or was involved in what had just happened in Khartoum, Ravid’s words sparked controversy in Israel. His comments raised important questions about the nature of Israel’s relations with Sudan and to what extent the coup in Khartoum is expected to influence the ongoing normalization process.

In February 2020, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Uganda with the head of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. It was Netanyahu who then announced that the two countries intended to normalize their relations. In December 2020, the United States agreed to remove Sudan from its blacklist of countries supporting terrorism. And in January 2021, Sudan signed the Abrahamic Accords as the fourth country to join the deal brokered by the United States after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

Unlike the other three countries, Sudan has not signed a deal with Israel to open embassies or exchange ambassadors, although Sudan abolished its long-standing boycott of Israel in April. The normalization process has reached a diplomatic deadlock, apparently due to a disagreement over the issue of military or civilian leadership in Khartoum.

After the overthrow of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, the army took control of the country. After several months of negotiations, the military agreed to establish the Sovereign Council, headed by Burhan but with a civilian prime minister and several other civilian ministers. The military leadership was and still is keen to normalize ties with Israel, believing that this will facilitate Sudan’s struggling economic ties with the United States and will also provide intelligence and security benefits to Sudan. A large Israeli delegation led by then Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen visited Khartoum on January 26, and reports in Arab media on October 8 revealed that a high-level intelligence delegation Sudanese had visited Israel.

The civilian leadership of Sudan, a member of the Arab League, is more cautious of Israel and continues to emphasize its commitment to the Palestinian cause. So, for example, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi said on September 26 that there are currently no plans to establish an embassy for Israel in Khartoum. “There is no discussion at any official level,” she noted, adding that “the abolition of a law on boycotting Israel does not mean that we are considering opening an Israeli embassy in Khartoum ”.

Reports released in recent weeks indicated that Washington was pushing Khartoum to finalize the normalization process with Jerusalem. On October 13, Sudanese Minister of Justice Nasredeen Abdulbari met in Dubai with Israeli Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Idan Roll and Minister of Regional Cooperation Esawi Frej.

Unlike the Emirates or Bahrain, little is said in Israel about the market Sudan could represent for Israeli businessmen. The Dubai meeting could change that, focusing future relations on trade and development. However, for the moment, the stakes appear to be different. As one of the largest countries in the Arab League and in East Africa, Sudan has significant diplomatic clout. Its stability or instability could greatly affect its neighbors. Its location on the Red Sea is strategically important to Israel, as is the role it could play in combating regional Islamic extremist movements and terrorism.

Still, with the latest developments in Khartoum, normalization could be put on hold. At first glance, the military takeover should work in Israel’s favor. In reality, a destabilized Sudan, with a military regime devoid of international legitimacy, will have other problems to deal with and without the support of the United States, full normalization is unlikely to take place.

The United States has now suspended its $ 700 million emergency aid to Sudan and is calling on the military to withdraw from the coup. In an Oct. 25 briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “I think the normalization effort between Israel and Sudan is something that will need to be evaluated as we and, well Of course, Israel is watching very closely what happens in the hours to come. and the days to come. I wouldn’t want to weigh in on that yet. Israeli media reported today that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by telephone with Defense Minister Benny Gantz yesterday. Sudan was apparently one of the two topics discussed.

So what’s the next step for standardization? The former Israeli prime minister should certainly be credited with relaunching relations with Sudan. On the other hand, Netanyahu chose Burhan as his dialogue partner, making little effort to establish channels of communication with Sudanese civilian leaders. Has Netanyahu locked Israeli diplomacy in a corner? Roll and Frej’s meeting with the Sudanese justice minister might indicate that the government would like to try a different approach – one that could only work, of course, if and when Sudan returned to civilian rule.


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