1. Khloser to Khartoum: After a year of rumors and talks just below the surface (and unhelpfully gagged by Israel’s military censor), Israel announced Monday that it was working on normalizing ties with Sudan, once an enemy known mostly for its three no’s: No to peace, no to recognition, no to negotiations.
- The news of a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and transitional Sudanese leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan makes front pages and is seen as a major development in Israel, if only a very tentative one.
- “Despite expectations, the meeting did not include the creation of diplomatic ties between Israel and Sudan and there was no joint picture that came out of the meeting,” reports Yedioth Ahronoth.
- Channel 12 news reports that a preparatory meeting was held between the national security adviser and his deputy with various high-level Sudanese officials, at which a joint statement was prepared.
- In the end though, only Israel put out anything about the meeting, while Sudan only announced Burhan’s plan to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington.
2. Israel is a gateway drug: It appears clear that Sudan is less interested in USB sticks and $24 cherry tomatoes than in getting off the US terror list, seeing Israel as an in with the Trump administration.
- Haaretz reports that Israel has been talking to the US about warming ties with Sudan for years and the countries have been passing messages since the removal of Omar al-Bashir last year, which paved the way for the breakthrough.
- An Israeli official tells Channel 13 news that Sudan had asked Israel to help it improve ties with the United States and urge the Trump administration to drop the terror designation.
- Netanyahu subsequently did so, leading to a little-noticed invitation for Burhan to visit the US on Sunday.
- A Sudanese official is widely quoted in Hebrew media telling the Associated Press that Burhan agreed to meet Netanyahu because officials thought it would help “accelerate” the process of being removed from the terror list.
3. I’ll fly (them) away: As for what Israel gets out of the deal, Channel 12 reports that a major asset for Israel would be the ability for planes to overfly Sudan, which the channel calls a “black cloud over Africa,” blocking the straightest possible route to Latin America (now that planes to and from Israel can fly over Chad.)
- An Israeli official tells reporters that overflights could start as early as Tuesday (they haven’t), playing up the meeting as another sign of flowering Israeli-Arab ties.
- Some speculate that Netanyahu’s meeting with Burhan and his display of diplomatic dexterity is seemingly designed to help him gather up more votes ahead of the March 2 vote.
- In Haaretz, Noa Landau notes that “the meeting with Sudanese leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan led associates of Netanyahu to speculate that the warming ties would help facilitate the future repatriation of some 7,000 Sudanese now living in Israel.”
- Netanyahu even started to use it as a campaign pitch two weeks ago, she points out, quoting him saying that “we blocked the entrance of a million infiltrators from Sinai to Israel, and we are now going to remove the two-thirds that remained. We’re working on that; you’ll hear news soon.”
- Israel Hayom’s Amnon Lord writes that the warming of ties is important because it gives Israel an in over Suakin, a port city in Sudan that is controlled by Turkey and that writes poses a threat to Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia by giving Ankara-backed militias a way to ship arms.
- “At the end of the day Israel, Egypt and the US will demand the Turks be ousted from the city,” he writes (though it’s unclear how Israel will add weight to the existing demands of two power players.)
4. De(blue)nial is a river in Sudan: Several stories in the Israeli media play up how secretive the talks were, but in fact journalists knew plenty about them and were just gagged by the military censor from reporting on it.
Israel's military censor blocks reporting on which African leaders Netanyahu is meeting today – in case those leaders face a domestic backlash and cancel on Bibi. https://t.co/VPYowzK5EU
— Raf Sanchez (@rafsanchez) February 3, 2020
- ToI’s Raphael Ahren, who was one of four journalists who accompanied Netanyahu to Entebbe, notes that it was “ extremely frustrating” to be at the meeting and have Burhan’s participation confirmed (though he was not seen), and then having to wait until Netanyahu tweeted out about the meeting to 100 million people before the reporters could let their stories fly, just as they went wheels up from Entebbe.
- It was only when a Sudanese outlet reported on Burhan visiting Uganda at the same time as Netanyahu that Israeli outlets could even report on that, with all the subsequent hints they could muster.
- It’s possible that the story, which was ostensibly about Burhan but really about Netanyahu and Israel-Sudan ties, was fed to the outlet by one of those frustrated Israeli journalists seeking to get around the secrecy.
5. Still a no-no: Israeli journalists were apparently one step ahead of Sudan’s government, though.
- Former Sudan Tribune deputy editor Wasil Ali noted on Twitter that Khartoum’s government only found about the meeting via the media.
BREAKING: #SUDAN GOVT SPOKESMAN & INFORMATION MINISTER SAYS GOVT WAS NOT AWARE OF PLANNED BURHAN MEETING WITH NETENYAHU. WILL AWAIT CLARIFICATIONS FROM BURHAN WHEN HE RETURNS – STATEMENT pic.twitter.com/kyyBqfhSr2
— Wasil Ali – واصل علي (@wasilalitaha) February 3, 2020
- The only coverage of the meeting in Sudan’s state-run SUNA news agency is that government denial of knowing anything about anything.
- Nonetheless, “on social media, some Sudanese denounced the meeting, accusing Burhan of trying to get on the Trump administration’s good side through Israel. Others applauded, arguing that it was good for Sudan’s future,” the AP reports.
- Speaking to Army Radio, Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon says the meeting should have stayed secret in Israel too, but elections.
- “I’m sure people in the defense array are scratching their heads and asking why Netanyahu publicized this. If we weren’t four weeks out from elections, the trip would not have been publicized.”
6. Minority retort: In what some see as another election ploy, Haaretz reports that Netanyahu pushed for the inclusion of Arab Israeli towns in a future Palestinian state in the US peace plan.
- “Numerous sources who were involved in the discussions between Israel and the U.S. over the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ unveiled last week in Washington told Haaretz that Netanyahu first discussed this idea with the Trump administration in July 2017, when Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was visiting Israel,” the paper reports.
- “Netanyahu’s office hasn’t denied his involvement in the matter, saying that decision on what the plan will include were made by the White House, which declined to comment,” it adds.
- Many people note that even if not his original intention, including the idea will likely help sell the plan to Avigdor Liberman, who originally proposed it in 2004.
#Breaking: Joint List leader @Ahmad_Tibi says US Amb. David Friedman included clause on exporting Israeli Arabs to State of Palestine in #DealoftheCentury at request of Netanyahu (who according to rumor hopes to use this as coalition bait to bring @AvigdorLiberman back into fold)
— Noga Tarnopolsky (@NTarnopolsky) February 3, 2020
- The story comes just as Netanyahu began pushing back on Blue and White for reportedly entertaining thoughts of a minority government backed from the outside by the Joint List.
- After Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg tells Radio 103 that “a center-left government of Blue and White and Labor-Gesher-Meretz, together with Liberman and support from the outside by the Joint List would be a good government,” Netanyahu tweets derisively: “Good for whom? Gantz has no government without the Joint List.”
- Apropos nothing, Walla news runs a story recounting all the times that Likud has worked together with the Arab parties, from passing rules on gas exports to upping police enforcement measures.
- “While the right has tried to portray working Blue and White together with Arab MKs in the future as something out of the ordinary, in actuality, working together in the Knesset is completely normal,” it reports.