Israeli Drone (illustrative).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The reported Israeli drone strike on Sudan Tuesday may have revealed the extent of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s double gaming – playing nice with the Gulf states by joining the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen while at the same time quietly cooperating with Tehran and serving as a weapons smuggling hub.
It appeared that Bashir and many of his countrymen hoped that supporting the campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen would encourage Gulf powers to pour aid and investment into Sudan’s struggling economy. Maybe now those plans will be scratched.
A knowledgeable Sudanese source told The Jerusalem Post
, “I don’t really buy the Sudan statement” that it detected and shot down a drone, as “how could that shake houses? “Homes in a very wide diameter felt the impact,” as “it was powerful,” said the source, adding that this led him to believe it was some sort of explosion.
“If this was Israel, the episode conjured memories of the 2012 strike on the Yarmuk facility in Khartoum. This was an Iranian Republican Guard facility housing Iranian Fajr-5 rockets destined for Hamas,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a former terrorism finance analyst at the US Department of the Treasury, told the Post
“Shortly thereafter, war [Operation Pillar of Defense] erupted in Gaza, and Israel struck dozens of additional sites believed to be housing Fajr- 5s,” he said.
The idea that “Sudan could be storing Iranian weapons now is not surprising, given its history of strong military ties to Tehran and Hamas,” Schanzer said.
The timing, however, raises questions as to Sudan’s recent decision to join the Saudi-led military coalition to battle Iran’s proxies in Yemen, he said, noting that the coalition includes Egypt, which is engaged in a campaign against Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
“There could be some awkward conversations today between Cairo, Khartoum and Riyadh,” Schanzer said.
Sudan, which is separated from Saudi Arabia by a few hundred kilometers and the Red Sea, has helped Tehran project its influence into Africa by serving as the key entry point for Iranian weapons exports to the continent, arms monitors say.
Steve McDonald, a scholar at the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and a former US diplomat who served in Africa, told the Post that prior to the separation and independence of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan had given shelter to Osama bin Laden.
“The Saudis were very uncomfortable with that situation,” he said, noting that this was before 9/11 but after the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Since then, “the Iranians became a more reliable avenue of support for Bashir, who increasingly became a global outlaw for his own internal depravations and human rights violations.”
“Not that the Saudis were less squeamish than the Iranians, but the Iranians had already opened up lines of support and that is the situation that prevails today,” McDonald said.
“Sudan is a paper tiger and not a threat to anyone in the region, so I am not sure why Israel would launch any strikes there,” he speculated, adding that the US had once bombed a suspected chemical warfare manufacturing plant there “which turned out not to be the case.”
In any case, McDonald continued, “I guess there might be some activities of a suspicious nature” going on there.
Reuters contributed to this report.