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Israel and Sudan expected to normalise ties by next week

What happened: Israel and Sudan are expected to announce the normalisation of relations and a nonaggression pact as early as next week after several rounds of US-led negotiations.

  • An Israeli-American delegation visited Sudan on Wednesday in what has been reported as the breakthrough in negotiations. Ronen Peretz, acting Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, and Netanyahu’s envoy to the Arab world “Maoz” were reportedly joined by senior US defence official Miguel Correa and Aryeh Lightstone, an adviser to US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, on the one-day trip.
  • According to Israeli media sources, the announcement will come after a phone call between US President Donald Trump, Sudan’s transitional leader Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok yesterday and applauded his “efforts-to-date to improve Sudan’s relationship with Israel and expressed hope that they would continue”.
  • On Wednesday, Pompeo said he hoped Sudan would soon recognise Israel, as Washington moved to strike the Arab country from a list of state sponsors of terrorism. Pompeo added that the US wants every nation “to recognise Israel, the rightful Jewish homeland, to acknowledge their fundamental right to exist as a country”.

Context: The US has been in negotiation with Sudan for several weeks over whether to remove the African state from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

  • It is believed that in return for such a move, and a billion-dollar aid package, the US is asking Sudan to normalise relations with Israel. Up to now, Sudan had rejected the US attempt to tie its removal from the blacklist to its normalising of ties with Israel.
  • Sudan’s current transitional Sovereignty Council, which is run by al-Burhan, who is supportive of ties with Israel. His civilian counterpart, Prime Minister Hamdok, has been far more hesitant and insisted that the transitional government has no mandate to handle the normalisation question at this time.
  • Earlier this week, Sudan agreed to pay $335m in compensation to the victims of the 1998 bombings of two US Embassies in Africa to exit the US blacklist.
  • Peace between Israel and Sudan would be a highly symbolic move as many Israelis continue to associate Khartoum as the location for the Arab League summit held shortly after the end of the Six-Day War in 1967 in which the Arab world announced their policy of the “Three No’s” — “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel”.
  • Unlike the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan has also participated in wars against Israel with its Arab allies and up to 2016 was part of Iran’s regional axis.
  • Israeli intelligence minister Eli Cohen has noted how a peace accord with Sudan would strike a blow to Iran’s regional hegemony: “Sudan is an important country in the region, having previously served as a way station for weapons between Iran and Gaza. Taking it off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism will enable us to sign another agreement and develop several important tracks of cooperation that will greatly contribute to Israel.”
  • The deal is also expected to include Israeli aid and investment, particularly in technology and agriculture. The Americans and Israelis also promised to talk to allies in the Gulf and the West to bring investment and debt relief to Sudan.
  •  A senior Sudanese government official told Israel Hayom, “The Middle East is changing, and Sudan wants to be part of the process. We have a unique opportunity to rehabilitate our society and our economy. The Palestinians are angry? They’re angry with us, when any Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon is in better shape than Sudan? The days when the Palestinian problem was dumped on Sudan are over. We are working for the future of Sudan and our children and grandchildren.”

Looking ahead: The agreement is expected to be signed within the next  few days, ahead of the US election.  Due to logistics and time constraints the ceremony may be held on Zoom with the participation of Trump, Netanyahu, and head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

  • There is concern that such a major foreign policy move at a time of deep economic crisis could upset the delicate balance between the military and civilian authority.  Prime Minister Hamdok is pushing for parliament (that hasn’t yet been formed) to approve the deal first. Al-Burhan is scheduled to hand over control of the Sovereignty Council to Hamdok in 2022.

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