An Israel airstrike was behind the explosion last Wednesday at a Sudanese weapons factory, and that attack was a “dry run for a forthcoming attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities,” according to a weekend report in the Sunday Times of London, which also implied the seeds of the attack were planted in the 2010 alleged Mossad assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
Citing anonymous Israeli and western defense sources, the British newspaper alleged that an IAF force consisting of eight fighters, two helicopters and a refueling plane were used in the attack on the weapons factory near Khartoum. The force flew down the Red Sea, avoiding Egyptian air defense, and used electronic countermeasures to prevent detection while over Sudanese territory.
Four fighters made the bombing run, the other four were used for air cover, and the helicopters, which carried 10 commandos each, were in reserve in case a rescue operation was needed to recover a downed pilot.
“This was a show of force, but it was only a fraction of our capability — and of what the Iranians can expect in the countdown to the spring,” an Israeli defense source was quoted as telling the Sunday Times.
Israeli officials have neither confirmed nor denied striking the site. Instead, they accused Sudan of playing a role in an Iranian-backed network of arms shipments to Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel believes Sudan is a key transit point in the circuitous route that weapons take to the Islamic militant groups in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
The Sudanese government last Wednesday immediately pointed the finger at Israel for the fire at the Yarmouk Complex that killed two people, and said that four Israeli aircraft bombed the factory.
On Saturday, furthermore, Khartoum claimed it had proof of Israeli involvement. Sudan says 60 percent of the factory was completely destroyed in the attack, and the rest badly damaged.
Sudanese officials said the government has the right to respond to what the information minister said was a “flagrant attack” by Israel on Sudan’s sovereignty, and the right to strengthen its military capabilities.
An American monitoring group said on Saturday that satellite images of the aftermath of the Wednesday explosion suggested the site was hit by an airstrike. The images released by the Satellite Sentinel Project to the Associated Press showed six 52-foot (16-meter) wide craters at the compound.
Military experts consulted by the project found the craters to be “consistent with large impact craters created by air-delivered munitions,” Satellite Sentinel Project spokesman Jonathan Hutson said.
The target may have been around 40 shipping containers seen at the site in earlier images, the group said. It said the craters center on the area where the containers had been stacked.
Sudan was a major hub for al-Qaeda militants and remains a transit for weapon smugglers and African migrant traffickers. Israeli officials believe arms that originate in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas go through Sudan before crossing Egypt’s lawless Sinai desert and into Gaza through underground tunnels.
According to the Sunday Times, in 2010 when Mossad agents assassinated Hamas arms procurer al-Mabhouh in Dubai, they found a copy of a 2008 defense agreement between Iran and Sudan.
The agreement allowed Iran to build weapons in Sudan under Iranian supervision. The Times wrote that the “Israelis discovered later that a large contingent of Iranian technicians had been sent to the Yarmouk factory… the Iranians were building advanced Shahab ballistic missiles and rockets at a plant in the factory compound.”
These missiles were seen as “a direct threat,” according to an Israeli security expert quoted by the Times.
Opened in 1996, the Yarmouk factory is one of two known state-owned weapons manufacturing plants in the Sudanese capital. Sudan prided itself on having a way to produce its own ammunition and weapons despite United Nations and US sanctions.
The satellite images indicate that the Yarmouk facility includes an oil storage facility, a military depot and an ammunition plant.
The monitoring group said the images indicate that the blast “destroyed two buildings and heavily damaged at least 21 others,” adding that there was no indication of fire damage at the fuel depot inside the military complex.
The group said it could not be certain the containers, seen in images taken Oct. 12, were still there when explosion took place. But the effects of the blast suggested a “highly volatile cargo” was at the epicenter of the explosion.
“If the explosions resulted from a rocket or missile attack against material stored in the shipping containers, then it was an effective surgical strike that totally destroyed any container” that was at the location, the project said.
A witness told the project that three planes were seen “flying fast around southern Khartoum, to the northwest and northeast,” while a fourth larger plane flew toward the northeast at a higher altitude.
Yarmouk is located in a densely populated residential area of the city approximately 11 kilometers (seven miles) southwest of the Khartoum International Airport.
Wednesday’s blast sent exploding ammunition flying into homes in the neighborhood adjacent to the factory, causing panic among residents. Sudanese officials said some people suffered from smoke inhalation.
A man who lives near the factory said that, from inside their house, he and his brother heard a loud roar — what they believed was a plane — just before the boom of the explosion sounded from the factory.
Also on Saturday, a report in the Examiner quoted an “Israeli counterterrorism source” saying Israel bombed the Sudanese munitions plant, which has also produced chemical weapons.
The Examiner’s source claimed that “the Israeli government reported to news reporters that four Israeli military planes attacked and destroyed the arms factory in Khartoum.”
Contrary to the Examiner report, Jerusalem has been tight-lipped since Khartoum. Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday had no comment about the incident. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Channel 2 there was “nothing to say” about the subject.
The Examiner’s source reiterated the charge made in the Israeli press and by the Sunday Times that Sudanese-made arms funded by Iran make their way to Hamas and Hezbollah armories. The article claimed that Iran pays Bedouin to smuggle Sudanese arms from the Red Sea coast across Sinai to the Gaza Strip.
According to the Examiner’s Israeli source, “hundreds of rockets (mostly with ranges of 20-40 kilometers), about 1,000 mortar shells, dozens of individual anti-tank missiles, and tons of explosives and explosives-making materials have been smuggled” via Sinai to the Gaza Strip.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.