A senior Israeli diplomat reportedly met with Sudanese officials in a secret meeting held in Istanbul as part of efforts to renew ties between the two countries and even establish full diplomatic relations.
The meeting took place around a year ago between a special Israeli Foreign Ministry envoy and a team of senior representatives from Sudan, including then-intelligence chief Mohamed Atta, Channel 10 news reported Tuesday night.
According to a source familiar with the meeting quoted by the channel, the two sides discussed “the warming of relations between the countries and possible Israeli aid to Sudan in the fields of medicine, agriculture and the economy.”
The meeting, the report said, was part of Israel’s effort to establish diplomatic ties with a number of central African nations and was known to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry offered no comment on the meeting.
The report comes after Chadian leader Idriss Déby made a historic visit to the Jewish state this week and Netanyahu announced that he will soon fly to N’Djamena to announce the resumption of full diplomatic ties with the Muslim-majority country, nearly half a century after they were severed.
A senior Israeli official told Channel 10 that Déby’s visit was laying the groundwork for normalizing ties with Muslim-majority countries Sudan, Mali and Niger.
According to the report, Israel’s diplomatic push in Africa is driven in part by a desire to ease air travel to Latin America. Flying in the airspace of traditionally hostile African countries — namely Chad and Sudan — would allow airlines to offer faster, more direct flights between Israel and the continent.
Flying directly from Israel to Brazil over Sudan could shave some four hours off the average journey, which currently takes at least 17 hours, and requires a stopover in either Europe or North America.
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.
At the time, the country 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 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 has 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 Sudanese President Omar al-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.
Netanyahu portrayed Déby’s unprecedented visit as the result of his hard-won diplomatic efforts, referring to his three visits to Africa over the last couple years and his surprise trip to Oman in October.
The visit to Oman, a major diplomatic victory for Netanyahu, was an apparent sign of Israeli progress in improving ties with Gulf countries.
Also Sunday, Netanyahu added that “there will be more such visits in Arab countries very soon,” without providing details.