Israel and Sudan have agreed to move towards forging normal relations for the first time, Israeli officials said on Monday after the leaders of the two former foes met in Uganda.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks with Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of Sudan’s sovereign council, in the city of Entebbe in central Uganda.
“It was agreed to start cooperation leading to normalisation of the relationship between the two countries,” an Israeli statement said after the leaders met for two hours.
Normalising relations with Sudan, where Arab states gathered in 1967 to issue what became known as the “Three No’s” – no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel and no negotiations with Israel – would allow Netanyahu to burnish his diplomatic credentials a month before the country’s March 2 election.
It could pave the way for the right-wing Israeli leader to pledge the deportation of Sudanese who make up around one-fifth of illegal workers in Israel, a move backed by many of his supporters.
These migrants had previously argued that they could not be repatriated as they faced retribution for travelling to Israel, an enemy country of Sudan.
“Netanyahu believes that Sudan is moving in a new and positive direction,” the Israeli statement said.
Sudan’s leader, it added, “is interested in helping his country go through a modernisation process by removing it from isolation and placing it on the world map”.
Israel previously considered Sudan a security threat, due to Iran’s suspected use of the country as a conduit for overland smuggling of munitions to the Gaza Strip. In 2009, regional sources said, Israeli aircraft bombed an arms convoy in Sudan.
But since Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir was ousted last year, Khartoum has distanced itself from Iran and no longer poses such a threat, Israeli officials say.
On Sunday, the United States invited Burhan to visit Washington, Sudan’s sovereign council said, highlighting warmer bilateral ties.
Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu held talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who said his country was studying the possibility of opening an embassy in Jerusalem.