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Sudan said set to salvage elusive normalization with Israel

Reports say Khartoum now ready to sign Abraham Accords pact agreed on two years ago but held up by instability and a coup in Muslim African nation

Sudanese Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, left, head of the military council, speaks during a military-backed rally, in Omdurman district, west of Khartoum, Sudan on June 29, 2019. (AP/Hussein Malla) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a briefing on coronavirus development at his office in Jerusalem on September 13 2020.  (Alex Kolomiensky/Yedioth Ahronoth via AP, Pool)
Sudanese Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, left, head of the military council, speaks during a military-backed rally, in Omdurman district, west of Khartoum, Sudan on June 29, 2019. (AP/Hussein Malla) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a briefing on coronavirus development at his office in Jerusalem on September 13 2020. (Alex Kolomiensky/Yedioth Ahronoth via AP, Pool)

Over two years after saying it would normalize ties with Israel, Sudan is finally set to officially join the US-brokered Abraham Accords, an Israeli official told Hebrew-language media Wednesday.

The reports, which could not be verified, mark the latest twist in an ongoing saga that has seen Khartoum’s halting steps toward forging diplomatic relations with Israel stymied by ongoing political instability in the African nation, including a 2021 military coup.

According to the official, who was quoted by the Kan broadcaster and the Haaretz newspaper, US diplomats in the region with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israeli counterparts that Sudan was readying to finalize an agreement to join the Abraham Accords, the framework agreement under which the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco also normalized ties with Israel.

The official said meetings had been held in recent weeks between Sudanese and Israeli officials, at the urging of the US, paving the way for the deal to be revived.

Sudan initially announced it was ready to join the Abraham Accords as part of a deal that was also meant to net the financially struggling country with US aid and removal from Washington’s state-sponsored terror blacklist.

However, Khartoum never signed the full accords, amid a disagreement between the country’s military and civilian leadership over whether to normalize with Israel. Doing so would end decades of enmity from one of Israel’s bitterest enemies, which famously hosted a 1967 summit at which the Arab League adopted its policy of refusal to engage with Jerusalem.

Sudanese protesters take part in a rally against military rule on the anniversary of previous popular uprisings, in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, May 12, 2022 . (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

While the military junta now running the country had backed normalization, the effort was put on the back burner and in May last year, the US cut aid to Sudan in response to the coup, further setting back the initiative.

According to the official, agreements with Mauritania and Indonesia may be in the offing as well. Israel and Mauritania maintained ties from 1999 to 2009; Jerusalem and Jakarta have for years had friendly mid-level contacts.

The report came as Israel hosted Chad President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, who is slated to open an embassy for his country in Israel on Thursday.

“We see these relations as extremely important — with a great country at the heart of Africa,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as the two met in Jerusalem. “These are relations that we want to upgrade to new levels, to new heights — and your visit here in Israel and the opening of the embassy are an expression of this.”

In 2019, during Netanyahu’s last term, he and late president Idriss Deby Itno, Mahamat Deby’s father, announced the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. Chad had severed ties with Israel in 1972 due to pressure from Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

The elder Deby, who ruled the Muslim-majority nation for more than three decades, was killed in 2021 on the battlefield in a fight against rebels. His son replaced him as president at the head of a military junta.

Netanyahu has made expanding Israel’s ties in Africa a focus of his foreign policy in the past.

Upon landing in Israel Tuesday night, Deby was received at the airport by Mossad chief David Barnea. The Chadian delegation then headed to Mossad headquarters in Glilot for a celebratory meeting.

Mossad Chief David Barnea (R) welcomes Chad’s President Mahamat Deby at Ben Gurion Airport, January 31, 2023 (courtesy)

Mossad played a central role in maintaining quiet ties with Chad after 1972, and in working toward full normalization in recent years.

“We are full of hope,” said Barnea, “that other leaders in the Middle East and in Africa will take inspiration from this important agreement, and will advance their relations with Israel.”

The report on the breakthrough with Sudan came on the same day that the US expressed its anger with Khartoum over the release of a man convicted in the 2008 killing of a US diplomat and embassy employee in a drive-by shooting in the Sudanese capital.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that Abdel-Raouf Abu Zaid, the Sudanese man who was found guilty of the murders, remains a “specially designated global terrorist.”

He was convicted of murdering John Granville, an official with the US Agency for International Development, and his Sudanese driver, Abdel Rahman Abbas. They were shot while returning home early in the morning on January 1, 2008, from a New Year’s Eve party.

Price said any insinuation that the release was agreed by the United States as part of a settlement between the US and Sudan was false.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

 

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