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Is Sudan jumping on the normalisation bandwagon?

Image of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir during a press conference on April 4, 2017 [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir during a press conference on 4 April 2017 [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]

Modern Sudanese politics is characterised by a fair amount of ambiguity and secrecy. It is also distinguished by its unexpected boldness in critical moments. Given the limited number of experts in Sudanese political affairs locally, regionally and internationally, and the lack of accurate information in open sources, we see many analyses leaning towards superficiality, assumptions and prejudices.

With regards to normalisation with Israel, this issue has been raised several times, most recently in relation to talk of Netanyahu’s next stop, which will be Sudan, and that communication has progressed and its only a matter of time before this is publically announced.

It is worth noting that the source of such news is usually Israeli sources and sometimes they come as a response or reaction to individual statements made by Sudanese officials in ministerial or constitutional positions without a political context.

It is often noted that the Sudanese official reactions come from partisan levels related to the government and do not come from the Sudanese Foreign Ministry or the presidency. These responses always confirm that Sudan is committed to the Palestinian issue according to the Arab official consensus which was affirmed in the Arab initiative that normalisation will only occur in exchange for comprehensive peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

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The Israeli campaign is accompanied by a political achievement manifested by the Chadian president’s visit to Israel as a culmination of public contact between Chad and Israel. The most recent was Dore Gold’s visit to Chad in 2016. The campaign gave the impression that Sudan was willing for sudden and unexpected normalisation, which caused the Sudanese public and others to be confused.

It is beneficial to speak clearly about the issue of normalisation in Sudan and state that it is not a political concern, as it is not one of Sudan’s political priorities or interests, at least for the time being. Therefore, we must note that the normalisation issue is not on the strategic dialogue agenda between Sudan and the US and this issue is not a pressing issue for the Sudanese government. Furthermore, internal political assessments believe that talking about normalisation or becoming involved would mean adding more crises to the list of major political, economic and security crises suffered by Sudan.

They also believe that normalisation would be a new gateway to political requirements and interventions that accommodate Israel’s strategic security requirements. This would lead to a strategic action at the hands of the affected parties, especially Egypt, and this would also result in further complications in the Sudanese tactical and strategic calculations. There is an internal belief that normalisation will not open the door to solving thorny problems in Sudan and that the experience of normalised countries were not positive in this regard.

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I do not have specific information about any secret official Sudanese-Israeli communication, despite the fact that some experts do not rule the possibility of secret contact on a low diplomatic level or through Arab or foreign political brokers who give advice by proxy.

Since this issue is not urgent on the Sudanese side, the side interested in raising this issue repeatedly is Israel for several reasons, such as its need to increase the number of countries open to it in these difficult circumstances. This would give the Israeli society a sense of strategic security. Israel is fuelled by constant fear to protect itself and its society, riddled with fear, needs to be calmed by injecting such security especially from a key country in the strategic belt area around the “danger zone”, according to the Israeli political expression.

On the political side, keeping Sudan far from the Israeli circle of containment strikes concern in Israeli strategy-makers as Sudan is surrounded by countries known for their complete normalisation with Israel. This includes Egypt, Central Africa, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The only exception is Libya, which suffers from a suffocating crisis. If all of these governments are within the containment circle, it is unacceptable for Sudan to remain outside this circle.

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This means that the “mysterious and bold” Sudan could be a strategic surprise in the event of a strategic battle against the major threats that affect the Israeli entity. There seems to be a tendency to fight such a battle against Iran, Hezbollah and the Palestinian resistance within the arrangements of the strategic “deal of the century”, the announcement of which has been repeatedly postponed. Since Sudan has previous historical experiences in supporting the Palestinian resistance, and because its government is still considered one of the countries with an Islamic ideological reference, the silent Sudanese position or its position of showing indifference to its surroundings cannot be relied on.

Palestinians stage a protest against the 'Deal of the Century', planned by US President Donald Trump to solve the conflict between Palestine and Israel, in Ramallah, West Bank on 2 July 2018 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinians stage a protest against the ‘Deal of the Century’, planned by US President Donald Trump to solve the conflict between Palestine and Israel, in Ramallah, West Bank on 2 July 2018 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

If the Israeli entity is so confident of the possibility of penetrating the Sudanese front, announcing this penetration early would in fact mean that it failed, because such a declaration constitutes a major political and popular provocation and would lead to the mobilisation of anti-normalisation forces inside and outside Sudan. It would also embarrass the Sudanese government, which is facing internal crises that are still stuck in the narrow bottleneck and have not been able to escape.

It seems to me that the tactical objective of this Israeli declaration is to stall the slow development in lifting the US sanctions on Sudan. The Sudanese official statements and reactions issued in this matter can be invested by the institutions of the American Zionist lobby to disrupt the path of development for which the Sudanese government has high hopes.

This article first appeared in Arabic in the Palestinian Information Centre on 27 November 2018

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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AfricaArticleIsraelMiddle EastOpinionPalestineSudan
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