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First Israeli minister makes Sudan visit after normalization

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen leads delegation for first meetings with Sudanese leaders since Khartoum signed Abraham Accords

Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen (L) meets with Sudanese Defense Minister Yassin Ibrahim in Khartoum on January 25, 2021 (Courtesy)
Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen (L) meets with Sudanese Defense Minister Yassin Ibrahim in Khartoum on January 25, 2021 (Courtesy)

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen visited Sudan on Monday, becoming the first Israeli minister to visit the Arab country following the recent signing of a normalization deal between the two countries.

Cohen led a delegation from his ministry and from the National Security Council, holding talks with senior Sudanese officials, including Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, and Defense Minister Yassin Ibrahim.

Cohen signed a memorandum of understanding with Ibrahim on security-related issues and invited Sudanese leaders to visit Israel, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported.

Details of the understandings were not immediately released.

After a brief trip, Cohen returned to Israel just in time before a week-long shutdown of the airport as part of efforts to control the spread of coronavirus variants into Israel.

Sudan earlier this month signed the “Abraham Accords” with the United States, paving the way for the African country to normalize ties with Israel.

Now-former US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and Sudanese Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari inked the deal, a largely symbolic document indicating Sudan’s intentions to move forward with normalization. The memorandum did not officially establish diplomatic ties between Khartoum and Jerusalem, a move that is expected to happen in the near future, at an as yet undetermined date.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (L) and Sudanese Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari sign the Abraham Accords in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, January 6, 2021. (Screen capture: Facebook)

Recent US-negotiated deals between Arab and Muslim countries and Israel have been a major foreign policy achievement by former US president Donald Trump’s administration.

The deals were named the Abraham Accords after the biblical patriarch revered by Muslims and Jews.

The signing came just over two months after Trump announced that Sudan would start to normalize ties with Israel.

Before Sudan, the administration engineered diplomatic pacts late last year between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Morocco also reestablished diplomatic relations with Israel, after cutting ties in 2000 in solidarity with Palestinians during the Second Intifada.

The accords have also contributed to the severe isolation and weakening of the Palestinians by eroding a longstanding Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should only be given in return for concessions in the peace process.

Mnuchin’s visit was the first by a senior American official since Trump’s administration removed the African country from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism in a deal that saw Sudan normalize its ties with Israel.

Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. The county is now ruled by a joint military and civilian government that seeks better ties with Washington and the West.

The government has been struggling with a huge budget deficit and widespread shortages of essential goods, including fuel, bread and medicine.

Annual inflation soared past 200% in the past months as prices of bread and other staples surged, according to official figures.

Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, head of the military council, waves to his supporters at a military-backed rally, in Omdurman district, west of Khartoum, Sudan, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

In December, Trump’s administration finalized the removal of Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. The move was a key incentive for the government in Khartoum to normalize relations with Israel.

Sudan’s economy has suffered from decades of US sanctions and mismanagement under al-Bashir, who had ruled the country since a 1989 Islamist-backed military coup.

The designation dates back to the 1990s, when Sudan briefly hosted al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other wanted terrorists. Sudan was also believed to have served as a pipeline for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

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