Following a secret meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sudan’s transitional leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, it appears that the two countries may be normalizing relations.
The meeting took place at the residence of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni during a visit by Netanyahu that was ostensibly set out to strengthen Israeli-Ugandan relations.
If normalization does take place, it would be a massive reversal for the northeast African state. The country was for a long time known for being the place where the Khartoum Declaration (which called for “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel”) was made.
For Netanyahu, this is simply one of the numerous attempts to better relations with several Middle Eastern and African states. In 2019, Israel re-established ties with Chad with the prime minister also openly visiting Oman the year before. Before that, Netanyahu expressed his desire for Israel to obtain observer status in the African Union. This is motivated by numerous causes including divorcing the Palestinian issues from its wider foreign policy as well as to isolate Iran. Until recently, Sudan was a major ally of Iran with the latter allegedly having also used Port Sudan to dock its ships. Additionally, the embattled Israeli premier is currently facing corruption charges at home and a foreign policy success could extend his political viability.
For Sudan, the motives are likely economic. The country is currently facing American sanctions relating to terrorism, which are particularly crippling at a time of domestic political instability, continued fighting in neighboring South Sudan, as well as general economic woes. With the ouster of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir and the cutting-off of relations with Iran over four years ago, Khartoum is presumably hoping that the Netanyahu government can use its influence on Washington to lift the sanctions. Yet, the previous lifting of sanctions has so far yielded few economic benefits for the country.
As early as January 2016, former Sudanese foreign minister Ibrahim Ghandoor had even suggested this as a possibility.
Netanyahu is reported to have raised the matter with Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo. The latter extended an invitation to Burhan to visit the United States, which would be the first time in nearly three decades for a Sudanese leader to visit Washington.
However, there is a far way to go before any such normalization takes place.
Back in Sudan, the governing transitional ruling council, which consists of both military officials and former opposition figures, have responded with surprise to the move. According to Faisal Mohamed Salih, a government spokesman said that the cabinet is waiting for Burhan’s return to explain. Burhan does not hold sole power but is rather a member of a collective leadership.
“We received the news about the meeting between chief of the sovereign council and Israeli prime minister through the media,” Salih stated.
This all followed Palestinian outrage at the news. The meeting was harshly denounced by Palestinian officials as a “stab in the back of the Palestinian people.” On Sunday, the Sudanese, along with the rest of the Arab League, voted to reject Trump’s proposed plan for the Israel-Palestine conflict.