Sudan’s president says planes cannot use its airspace en route to Israel

Omar al-Bashir contradicts Netanyahu’s suggestion of progress on issue, says a request from Kenya Airways was refused

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on January 3, 2019. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP)
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on January 3, 2019. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP)

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on Saturday refuted comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that significant progress had been made on the issue of flights to Israel via Sudanese airspace, according to a television report.

“We received a request to use our airspace on the route to Tel Aviv. The request did not come from El Al, but from Kenya Airways — we refused,” al-Bashir was said to have told a local Sudanese television outlet.

In December 2018, the prime minister indicated that Israel was allowed to fly over the Muslim-majority nation in northern Africa, which does not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

“Currently we can fly over Egypt, Chad, and apparently, we can fly over Sudan, and then we can fly directly to Brazil, which would save about two hours,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu did not use this route on his recent trip to Brazil.

In the prime minister’s announcement, he also said Israeli planes would be allowed to fly over Oman, adding that he is working on getting Saudi Arabia’s permission for this as well. Last year, Air India launched the first scheduled service to Israel to be allowed to travel through Saudi airspace, a sign of a behind-the-scenes improvement in ties between the kingdom and the Jewish state.

A Boeing 787 flight number AI139 of Indian national carrier Air India, from New Delhi, performs maneuvers on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, on March 22, 2018 after using Saudi airspace for the first time. (AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ)

Al-Bashir said Thursday he was advised to normalize ties with Israel in a bid to help to stabilize the growing domestic unrest that is threatening his iron-fisted rule of the country.

Bashir made the remarks during a meeting with Sufi leaders in the capital Khartoum held to discuss the violence and clashes throughout Sudan in recent weeks that have seen at least 19 protesters killed, according to Turkey’s Andalou Agency.

In this December 20, 2018, handout photo provided by a Sudanese activist, protesters chant slogans during a demonstration in Khartoum, Sudan. (Sudanese Activist via AP)

The Sudanese president did not specify who gave him the advice, but told the religious leaders he believed that “sustenance is in the hands of God,” according to the report.

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.

The country has 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 the lifting of US sanctions on Khartoum. According to 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 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 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.

In November, Channel 10 reported that Israel was actively working to establish diplomatic ties with Sudan, as part of wider efforts by the Foreign Ministry to upgrade relations with central African countries.

That report came days after Chadian leader Idriss Déby made a historic visit to Israel, where he pledged a new era of relations with the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) prepares to shake hands with Chadian President Idriss Deby as they deliver joint statements in Jerusalem November 25, 2018. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

During the visit, both Déby and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the centrality of security cooperation between the two countries, and Chadian security sources were quoted as saying that Israel had sent Chad arms and money earlier in 2017 to help the country in its fight against jihadist groups in West Africa.

Netanyahu hailed “flourishing” ties between Israel and African nations during a joint press conference with Déby, but declined questions about whether the two leaders discussed potential Israeli arms sales to Chad.

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