Hebrew media review

Bombs over Khartoum trump bombs over Israel

The press goes berserk over rumors of an Israeli airstrike on Sudan

Ilan Ben Zion is an AFP reporter and a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

An explosion at Sudan's Yarmouk Complex, outside Khartoum. (photo credit: image capture from Channel 2)
An explosion at Sudan's Yarmouk Complex, outside Khartoum. (photo credit: image capture from Channel 2)

The angry crimson glow of a Sudanese arms factory ablaze rages across the front pages of Israel’s papers on Thursday. The Yarmouk Complex, located outside the capital of Khartoum and approximately 1,900 kilometers (1,180 miles) from Israel (as the F-16 Falcon flies), exploded in a furious fireball overnight on Wednesday. The Sudanese government publicly accused Israel of attacking it.

The attack came amid a rocket barrage from Gaza in which 80 missiles fell on Israel’s south, damaging eight homes and injuring five. The Israeli government and military refused to comment on the (Sudan) incident.

Maariv gives the rundown on its front page: Khartoum claimed four Israeli aircraft struck the plant, which Western experts assess was an Iranian factory for producing arms bound for Gaza.

“The [country] that has a distinct interest in transferring munitions [to the Gaza Strip] is Iran, which does everything in order to build its forward operating base in Gaza. Already in 2008 Israeli intelligence sources identified that Iran was investing a great effort in African countries, particularly Sudan,” Maariv writes.

Yedioth Ahronoth mentions that according to the Sudanese, the four planes knocked out radar detection systems in the attack, which blew up the bomb factory and killed two people and seriously injured three others. The paper also draws the connection between Sudan and Iran. It reports that a defense pact was signed between the two countries’ defense ministers in 2008 that would “strengthen the project of smuggling arms to the Strip,” and that the agreement implicated Hezbollah as well.

Haaretz notes that Wednesday’s incident was not the first explosion in Sudan that Khartoum has blamed on Israel.

“In May of this year, and beforehand in April and February, Khartoum claimed that Israel was responsible for three explosions in which several Sudanese were killed,” Haaretz reports. “In January 2009 it was reported that several fighter planes attacked a truck convoy in northeast Sudan and killed 119 people.”

Israel Hayom, like the rest of the pack, emphasizes the fact that the Yarmouk Complex is located 1,900 kilometers from Israel. “If indeed they were Israeli planes that bombed Sudan, they covered a greater distance than that to the underground nuclear enrichment facility at Fordo in Iran,” the paper writes.

Whereas Haaretz highlights the various attacks in Sudan blamed on Israel, Israel Hayom juxtaposes Wednesday’s incident with other long-range Israeli operations, such as the assassination of Abu Jihad in Tunis in 1988, the destruction of the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, and the aforementioned strike on the arms convoy in Sudan in 2009.

Israeli pundits weighed in on the Sudan report and pointed the finger at Iran in the same way that Khartoum pointed the finger at Israel. Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Alex Fishman writes, “This is not Sudan, it’s Iran. It’s not clear whether the [Israeli] air force attacked…. What’s sure: the factory did not belong to the Sudanese military industry. It’s a factory that belongs to the government in Tehran and is run by the Iranians.” He remarks that comparison of the flight distance to Sudan and Iran are unequal, noting that Sudan does not have the air defense and radar detection that Iran has, and flying fighter jets to Iran would be a far more complicated procedure.

Professor Yehudit Ronen of Bar-Ilan University writes in Maariv that Wednesday’s incident in Khartoum is reminiscent of the American missile strike in 1998 on the Shifa plant north of Khartoum that was suspected of making chemical weapons. She calls Sudan a “country of chaos and void,” the first modern Islamist government in the Arab world and an unchecked state sponsor of terror for decades.

“It comes as no surprise,” she writes, that Sudan, “with its rigid Islamist character, has turned into a stage for concealing and hosting terror operatives, just as it is a site for arms production and waypoint for weapons flowing from Iran or chaotic post-Gaddafi Libya to Islamist terror operatives.”

Yoav Limor posits in Israel Hayom that there is little doubt that “it was indeed an airstrike.” He states that “Sudan is recognized as a large weapons storehouse and a waypoint for Iranian weapons to the Middle East (Lebanon and Gaza), and Iranian Revolutionary Guards are known to operate in its territory, mostly in reports of factories manufacturing munitions.” He says the IDF has the ability, the means, and the reason to carry out such a strike, even if our leaders won’t admit to doing it.

With all the gossip about Sudan filling the front pages, Israeli readers may have already forgotten about Wednesday’s rocket barrage in the south. Approximately 80 rockets and mortars were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli towns surrounding the Hamas-controlled enclave. As residents hunkered down in bunkers, politicians and top brass rushed to make their presence known.

Maariv reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited the beleaguered and bombed south and announced the government’s intent to finance a sweeping fortification program for towns 4.5 kilometers to 7 kilometers from the border with Gaza. Mimicking the name of the Iron Dome (Kipat Barzel), the paper’s headline reads Kipat Behirot — election hat.

It notes that the government’s sudden decision to finance the project came after years of repeated requests from residents for additional protection from rocket barrages. Coincidentally — or not — “only now, when elections are at the door, [the residents of southern Israel] received the longed-for protection.”

Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the Iron Dome anti-missile system successfully knocked out eight inbound rockets from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Only two attempted interceptions failed, the paper reports.

It adds that the lack of Iron Dome batteries — only four are operative and two are expected to enter service next year — means that the air force must move the launchers from site to site in the event of a rocket barrage. Should there be rocket strikes on northern and southern Israel simultaneously, the Iron Dome batteries would be too spread out to be effective, according to the paper.

Meanwhile, Gideon Levy again regales Haaretz readers by fuming about how Israelis are racist and advocate apartheid.

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