In yet another sign of shifting ground in the region, Sudan this week openly discussed the possibility of normalizing ties with Israel.
The Sudan News Agency reported that the committee for external relations of the National Dialogue Conference discussed the issue at a meeting on Monday. The report quoted one member of the committee, Ibrahim Suleiman, as saying that the majority of the committee called for the establishment of “normal and conditioned” relations with Israel.
The National Dialogue Conference is a forum initiated by Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir – with the participation of a wide array of opposition elements – aimed at mapping out the future of the war-torn state.
Just three years ago, Bashir – following an attack on a military factory in Khartoum that Sudan blamed on Israel – vowed that his country would never normalize relations with the “Zionist enemy.”
At that time, Sudan was firmly in Iran’s camp, and was seen as a key link in smuggling arms to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
In the interim, however, Sudan and Iran have had a falling-out.
The Sunni Muslim African state has moved closer to Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh has reportedly invested billions of dollars in Sudan to bolster its faltering economy.
Earlier this month Sudan followed Saudi Arabia’s lead and severed diplomatic ties with Iran following the sacking of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, which was triggered by the Saudi execution of a leading Shi’ite cleric. Iranian diplomats were given two weeks to leave Sudan, and the last one reportedly left on Monday.
The Africa Review website on Saturday reported that Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said at a public meeting in Khartoum last week that Sudan is open to discussing normalizing ties with Israel, despite decades of hostility.
Answering a question at a speech on Sudan’s foreign relations, and about the US conditioning the lifting of its sanctions on Khartoum with Sudan’s normalization of ties with Israel, Ghandour said: “We don’t mind to study any such proposal.”
On Wednesday, however, Ali Al Sadig, a spokesman for Sudan’s Foreign Ministry, was quoted by Agence de Presse Africaine as saying that the foreign minister’s comments were taken out of context.
“The support of the government and the people of Sudan to [the] Palestinian cause is well known. It did not change and will remain unchanged,” he added.
The Sudan Tribune this week quoted Suleiman, of the National Dialogue Conference’s External Relations Committee, as saying that the position of the ruling National Congress Party toward normalizing ties was unclear.
According to the report, Suleiman added that those who support the idea of normalizing ties with Israel believe it would help further Sudan’s interests. “The United States and Israel are two sides of the same coin and if the government underscores the importance to establish relation with America, why does it not establish ties with Israel?” he was quoted as saying.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem had no comment on the discussions in Sudan.
On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold said in a speech that Israel has the ability today to communicate with “almost every Arab state.”
Though Gold did not name the states, there are persistent whispers that Israel and Saudi Arabia – facing the similar threats of Iran and radical Islamic extremism – are cooperating “behind closed doors.”
Sudan is one of 22 members of the Arab League.
Israel has diplomatic ties and good relations with non-Muslim South Sudan, which broke away from Sudan and declared independence in 2011.