The head of the Mossad spy agency reportedly met with a senior Sudanese official in a meeting organized and hosted by the United Arab Emirates, Arabic media reports said Friday.
UAE national security adviser Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan had arranged the sit-down between Yossi Cohen and Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan’s ruling military council and was present for it as well, the Qatari news outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported.
Cohen has been in the UAE to advance last week’s announcement of the US-brokered normalization deal between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi. Analysts have speculated that the agreement will be followed by similar deals between Israel and other countries in the Arab and Muslim world.
Sources with knowledge of the Cohen-Dagalo meeting told the Arabic-language daily that Sudan’s military council is interested in improving ties with Israel.
The reported conversation capped a roller-coaster week in Israel-Sudan relations.
On Sunday, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told the Kan public broadcaster that official ties could be inked between Israel and Sudan by the end of the year.
Asked for comment on the matter, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Haidar Badawi Sadiq told Sky News Arabia that Khartoum “aspires towards a peace agreement with Israel… a relationship of equals built upon Khartoum’s interests.”
The remarks were quickly welcomed by Jerusalem.
But hours later Sudan’s acting foreign minister denied knowledge of peace talks with Israel, and said Sadiq had not been authorized to comment on the issue. The spokesman was fired for the comments on Wednesday, but said afterward that he did not regret making them.
Sadiq told Israel’s Kan national broadcaster on Thursday that he didn’t understand why his comments had caused such uproar, claiming that Sudan had begun warming relations with Israel before the UAE had.
The fired spokesman insisted that the countries were still heading in the direction of normalized relations regardless of the past week’s events, with the proof being that Khartoum has not denied its contacts with Jerusalem.
Cohen told Kan on Wednesday that a prospective peace deal with Sudan will include a provision to repatriate thousands of the East African nation’s citizens currently seeking asylum in Israel.
In February, Sudan’s transitional leader Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan met in secret with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda, a meeting quickly disavowed by the country’s prime minister Abdalla Hamdok.
At the time, a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel that Burhan and Netanyahu had agreed to gradually normalize relations between the two nations, which remain technically at war.
Israel officials have long expressed a wish for improved ties with Khartoum, citing its importance in the region as well as its geographic location. The nation was the birthplace of the Arab League’s 1967 policy refusing negotiations or normalization with Israel, but in recent years has seemingly softened its stance, moving out of Iran’s sphere of influence as it has desperately sought the removal of US sanctions as a supporter of Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror groups.
A Sudanese government official told The Associated Press Tuesday that deliberations between Sudanese and Israeli officials have been going on for months, with help from Egypt, the UAE and the US.
“It’s a matter of time. We are finalizing everything. The Emirati move encouraged us and helped calm some voices within the government who were afraid of backlash from the Sudanese public,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Israel has for years sought to repatriate or deport to third-party countries the tens of thousands of African asylum seekers in the country, most of whom live in south Tel Aviv. The government claims many of them are job-seekers and accuses them of bringing crime to the area.
In response to Cohen’s comments, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, a local advocacy group, harshly criticized the possibility of repatriation under a peace deal. The group said any such move would endanger the more than 6,200 Sudanese asylum seekers currently in the country.
More than 300,000 people have died in Darfur since 2003, when locals rebelled against the country’s central government, prompting violent reprisals which human rights groups have described as a genocide. While dictator Omar al-Bashir was deposed last year, many senior members of his regime still hold positions in Khartoum.
Since al-Bashir’s ouster, hundreds of Darfur residents have been killed and thousands displaced in a series of attacks by Arab Janjaweed militias.
Agencies contributed to this report