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After denial, Sudan reportedly confirms visit by Israeli delegation last week

Sovereignty Council head Gen. al-Burhan tells Egyptian newspaper he is not worried that an incoming Biden administration will disrupt normalization process with Israel

This combination of pictures created on October 24, 2020 shows (L to R): the President of the Sudanese Transitional Council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on the outskirts of the capital Khartoum on October 30, 2019; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2020; and Sudan's Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok in the capital Khartoum on July 26, 2020.(ASHRAF SHAZLY and Sarah Silbiger / various sources / AFP)
This combination of pictures created on October 24, 2020 shows (L to R): the President of the Sudanese Transitional Council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on the outskirts of the capital Khartoum on October 30, 2019; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2020; and Sudan's Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok in the capital Khartoum on July 26, 2020.(ASHRAF SHAZLY and Sarah Silbiger / various sources / AFP)

The military council that rules Sudan reportedly confirmed Sunday that an Israeli military delegation “recently” visited the country, after the country’s civilian government last week denied that such a visit had taken place.

“It was a delegation of a military character and nothing more,” said Mohammad Feki Suleiman, a spokesperson for the Sudanese Transitional Sovereignty Council, in statements widely carried in Arabic-language media.

Last Monday, a senior Israeli official told Hebrew-language media that the Jewish state had sent a delegation to Sudan — the first such visit since last month’s announcement of an agreement to normalize relations between the two countries.

The Sudanese civilian government had initially denied the report, with a government spokesperson telling AFP that “the cabinet is not aware of an Israeli delegation and we have no confirmation that this visit took place.”

The cabinet, which is run by Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, is distinct from the military-run Sovereignty Council. Since the downfall of former dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019, the Sovereignty Council, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has been Sudan’s de facto ruling authority.

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

Civilian leaders in Sudan have accused the military of going behind their backs in making deals with Israel. In February, al-Burhan secretly met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda, reportedly without notifying his civilian counterparts. When news of the meeting became public, Hamdok disavowed any knowledge of al-Burhan’s trip.

Sudan was the third Arab state — after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — to publicly agree to establish ties with Israel over the past three months. Khartoum did so under considerable pressure from the administration of outgoing US President Donald Trump, who reportedly demanded that Sudan normalize ties with the Jewish state in exchange for sanctions relief.

Long a pariah state due to the close ties between the previous regime of Omar al-Bashir and international terror groups, Khartoum was placed on an American list of “state sponsors of terror” in 1993. Once on the list, Sudan was subjected to crippling sanctions and denied access to international credit.

Lifting sanctions — giving the ailing Sudanese economy a much-needed boost — is popular in Sudan. But the agreement to normalize ties with Israel, allegedly as part of the deal, met with some domestic opposition. Prominent civilian political figures opposed the move, and a few small, scattered protests were held around the country.

Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan speaks during a military-backed rally in Omdurman district, west of Khartoum, Sudan, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, file)

In an interview on Saturday night with the Egyptian newspaper al-Shorouk, al-Burhan emphasized that both processes — the decision to establish closer relations with Israel and to remove Sudan from the terrorism sponsor list — would continue under the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden.

“The arrival of the Democratic president in the White House is certainly not worrisome. America is a state with strong institutions. In the institutional state, treaties are respected… America is a supporter of peace and ending conflict in the region and in the world,” al-Burhan said.

Al-Burhan also reemphasized Sudan’s commitment to the process of normalizing ties with Israel.

“How did Sudan benefit from its enmity with a state which is a member of the United Nations, and which has become an accepted member of the international community, no matter the circumstances which attended its establishment?” al-Burhan said.

Al-Burhan said the government had consulted with “a wide range of political and societal forces and found no objection to ending the state of hostility with Israel and reconciling with it.”

“We have reconciled with a state who was once our enemy. This is a natural state of affairs,” al-Burhan said.

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