Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said Thursday he was advised to normalize ties with Israel in a bid to help to stabilize the growing domestic unrest that is threatening his iron-fisted rule of the country.
Bashir made the remarks during a meeting with Sufi leaders in the capital Khartoum held to discuss the violence and clashes throughout Sudan in recent weeks that have seen at least 19 protesters killed, according to Turkey’s Andalou Agency.
The president did not specify who gave him the advice, but told the religious leaders he believed that “sustenance is in the hands of God,” according to the report.
The Thursday meeting comes after nearly two weeks of clashes that initially began in protest of rising bread prices but have rapidly evolved into anti-government rallies. The rallies have grown across Sudan in recent weeks, with at least 19 anti-government protesters killed. Human Rights group Amnesty International said 34 protesters have been killed in that time, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an investigation into the violence.
Israel has long been wary of Sudan, which was traditionally seen as close to Iran. However, in early 2017, Khartoum joined Sunni Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in severing its ties with the Islamic Republic.
The country has also appeared to make overtures toward Israel. Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said in a 2016 interview that Sudan was open to the idea of normalizing ties with Israel in exchange for lifting US sanctions on Khartoum. According to Hebrew-language media reports at the time, Israeli diplomats tried to drum up support for Sudan in the international community after it severed its ties to Tehran.
In the past, Sudan allegedly served as a way-station for the transfer of Iranian weapons to the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza. Israel has reportedly intercepted and destroyed transfers of weapons from Sudan bound for Gaza.
In 2009, the International Criminal Court also issued an arrest warrant for Bashir for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to the bloody conflict in the western Darfur region.
However, since it broke ties with Iran, Sudan is no longer perceived by Israel as a threat, but rather as a potential ally.
In November, Channel 10 reported that Israel was actively working to establish diplomatic ties with Sudan, as part of wider efforts by the Foreign Ministry to upgrade relations with central African countries.
That report came days after Chadian leader Idriss Déby made a historic visit to Israel where he pledged a new era of relations with the Jewish state.
During the visit, both Déby and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the centrality of security cooperation between the two countries, and Chadian security sources were quoted as saying that Israel had sent Chad arms and money earlier in 2017 to help the country in its fight against jihadist groups in West Africa.
Netanyahu hailed “flourishing” ties between Israel and African nations during a joint press conference with Déby, but declined questions about whether the two leaders discussed potential Israeli arms sales to Chad.