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Will Israel seek to mediate to end Sudan's political crisis?

January 24, 2022 at 12:20 pm

People continue protests demanding the restoration of civilian rule in Khartoum, Sudan on January 13, 2022 [Mahmoud Hjaj – Anadolu Agency]

Many in the Arab world were baffled when Sudan joined three other Arab states and normalised relations with Israel in 2020.

For decades, Sudan has maintained a staunch anti-Israel position and relentlessly supported the Palestinian cause.

On 29 August 1967, Sudan hosted the Arab League summit in the wake of the Six Day War, during which Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights.

The summit adopted the infamous Khartoum Resolution also known as the “Three Nos: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”

Since the independence of Sudan in 1956, no bilateral relations have been established between Tel Aviv and Khartoum. In fact, Sudan sent soldiers to fight with Arab forces against Israel.

Events, however, have changed dramatically in recent years. The erstwhile bitter enemy is now poised to play a mediator role less than two years after the normalisation agreement.

News of Israeli delegations visiting Khartoum has become public knowledge while Washington has sought Tel Aviv’s support in convincing Sudan’s military to return to the civilian-led transitional phase.

Last week, the official Israeli Broadcasting Corporation reported that an Israeli delegation arrived in Khartoum after a stop in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh.

No further details were provided by the Israeli broadcaster, while Sudanese authorities did not comment on the report.

Observers believe that Tel Aviv is keen to see the Sudanese crisis resolved to achieve several goals, including consolidating the normalisation of ties between the two countries.

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Last week’s visit came amid a severe political crisis in Sudan that has afflicted the country since 25 October 2021, when the military dismissed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s transitional government and declared a state of emergency.

Prior to the military takeover, Sudan was governed by a sovereign council of military and civilian officials tasked with overseeing the transition period until elections in 2023.

Hamdok was reinstated on 21 November following an agreement, but protesters denounced the deal, insisting on the removal of any military influence over the transitional governing coalition. He resigned on 2 January, citing a political deadlock.

It is worthy to note that Sudan’s military council was the one that spearheaded the normalisation process with Israel during a secret meeting in Uganda between army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 3 February 2020.

In October last year, Israeli media warned that the military takeover will derail Sudan’s access to the US-sponsored normalisation agreements, known as Abraham Accords, with the Israeli public broadcaster reporting that Israel was engaged in “several consultations” on Sudan.

On 23 November, former Sudanese Foreign Minister Maryam Al-Mahdi accused Israel and Egypt of “supporting” the “military coup” in Sudan.

Israeli mediation

Journalist and political analyst Taher Sati believes that the visit of the Israeli delegation to Khartoum came to “offer Tel Aviv’s mediation in resolving the Sudanese crisis.” Sati said this visit differs from previous ones.

This visit was “more political than security-related, and it came to mediate to resolve the political crisis,” he noted.

Sati, who is close to top Sudanese government officials, pointed out that the Israeli delegation discussed with Washington ways to resolve the crisis, in order to achieve its interests in terms of normalisation with Sudan.

“US officials met with political parties in Sudan and civil society organisations, and of course, it is in contact with Tel Aviv about the crisis,” he said.

On 17 November, Israeli media reported that Washington’s representative to the UN, Linda Thomas Greenfield, asked Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz to “intervene” in the Sudan crisis for a return to the “civilian-led transitional phase.”

READ: Sudan is like a bird whose wings have been clipped

Sati believes that Israel’s keenness to accelerate normalisation will have a “positive impact” on Sudan. Khartoum will get “security and economic benefits from Tel Aviv, through the completion of normalisation and peace,” Sati said. “Sudan needs to achieve its interests with all countries of the world, including Israel.”

On Thursday, Sudan’s Sovereign Council said in a statement following talks in Khartoum between Al-Burhan and US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and David Satterfield, the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, that it agreed on four points to resolve its political crisis.

They include the commencement of an inclusive dialogue between all Sudanese political parties in order to reach a national consensus to resolve the crisis, the formation of a civilian-led government, amendments to the transitional constitution, and the conducting of free and fair elections by the end of the transitional period.

The US Embassy in Sudan said the two diplomats warned that Washington will not resume paused assistance to the Sudanese government unless there is an “end to violence and restoration of a civilian-led government that reflects the will of the people of Sudan.”

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