Sudanese opposition groups accused Khartoum this week of reaching a secret
agreement with Tehran to establish an Iranian military base on the Red
Anti-government newspaper Hurriyat Sudan cited an unnamed opposition
source on Monday as saying that the Sudanese government had struck a deal with
Iran for building a base on the Sudanese coast.
Meanwhile, Sudanese rebel
group The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said on Sunday that Sudan’s
President Omar Bashir has reached a “very advanced” arrangement with Iran’s
Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to establish a naval base either in Port Sudan
or elsewhere on the Red Sea, according to the Sudanese anti-government news
outlet Al Rakoba.
The accusations came after two Iranian naval vessels,
the 1,400-ton frigate Jamaran and the 4,700-ton support ship Bushehr, docked in
Port Sudan on Saturday morning.
Mahjoub Hussein, a spokesman for the
Justice and Equality Movement, said that the visit of the Iranian warships, the
second in recent months, was not intended as a message to Israel but rather to
test regional opinion regarding the establishment of an Iranian military
According to reports in the Sudanese press, Sudan’s army
spokesperson Colonel Al- Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad said on Friday that the visit by
the Iranian military vessels is part of a “military exchange” with Iran. The
ships are scheduled to stay for three days, during which they will be open for
view by the public.
Iran has continued to push an aggressive naval
strategy, which includes expanding its weapons systems and warships – including
the Jamaran, a domestically-produced Mowj-class guided missile frigate first
launched at Bandar Abbas in 2010. The ship combines anti-submarine assets,
including a close-in anti-submarine torpedo system as well as surface-to-surface
and surface- to-air assets.
The Iranian Navy has also extended its reach
throughout the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb strait in the Red Sea, the
Suez Canal and the Strait of Malacca.
By extending its naval presence as
far as Sudan and the Red Sea, Iran would gain several advantages, including in
regards to combating Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden but also in gaining
control over the Red Sea shipping route, part of the channel through which Iran
ships arms to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. An Iranian naval presence in Port
Sudan would also upset Iran’s Sunni rival Saudi Arabia, located just across the
For its part, Sudan has long courted deeper ties with Iran, with
whom it signed a military cooperation agreement in March 2008.
made several visits to Iran, the last in August when Tehran hosted the summit of
the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Bashir has held onto power for 23 years
following a bloodless coup in 1999, but is increasingly under threat, as Sudan
struggles to overcome a $38 billion debt, particularly after the secession of
oil-rich South Sudan last year and the renewal of US economic sanctions last
Last month, Khartoum said it foiled a coup against Bashir
masterminded by the former head of intelligence, Salah Gosh.
Sudan’s army, overstretched as it fights insurgents in its South Kordofan and
Blue Nile border regions, has been accused of looking to Iran for military
In March, anti-government rebels accused Iran of sending
members of its IRGC to boost government forces. Tehran denied the
While Bashir is keen to show the world his country is moving
closer to Tehran, there are rifts within Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party
about the risks posed by the country’s bilateral ties with the Islamic
In November, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti criticized the
government for allowing Iranian warships to dock in Port Sudan, saying that he
had not been consulted over the matter.
Iran previously dispatched
warships to Port Sudan at the end of October, days after Khartoum accused Israel
of carrying out an air strike against a munitions factory in the Sudanese
capital. Jerusalem has neither confirmed nor denied striking the Yarmouk complex
but officials have repeated accusations that Sudan and Iran are coordinating to
smuggle arms to the Gaza Strip via Egypt.
In response to the air strike,
Bashir threatened to work toward acquiring “advanced weaponry” to counter
“repeated Israeli attacks.”
Echoing Tehran’s terminology and rhetoric,
the Sudanese leader said that Israel was “the Zionist enemy and Israel will
remain the enemy,” Sudanese news sources reported.
On Monday, opposition
sources in Sudan again accused Khartoum of turning Sudan into an arena for
Israel’s conflict with Iran.
Sudanese opposition group JEM also noted
that the Iranian military vessels’ visit to Port Sudan risked upsetting the
country’s delicate relationship with Gulf states, on whom it relies for aid.
Karti has also said that Arab Gulf states are not happy about Khartoum’s ties
with Tehran, and could deny aid.
According to a September report by the
International Monetary Fund (IMF), Saudi Arabia pledged $240 million to Khartoum
in the form of infrastructure loans over the last 18 months. However, so far
only $80 million have been disbursed.