Netanyahu meets Sudan's leader, countries to move toward normalization

Sudan shows signs of turning towards the West; Uganda considers opening embassy in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wife, Sarah, meet with Uganda's President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni., February 3, 2020 (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wife, Sarah, meet with Uganda's President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni., February 3, 2020
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Israel and Sudan will work to upgrade their diplomatic relations, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Uganda on Monday.
The prime minister and Sudan’s leader, Chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, met on Monday for two hours in Entebbe, Uganda, at the invitation of Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
The leaders agreed to start cooperation leading to the normalization of relations between the two countries.
Netanyahu said he believes that Sudan is moving in a new and positive direction, and that he said this to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Al-Burhan said he would like to help his country modernize by taking it out of isolation.
Israel is hopeful that in the short term, normalization talks will eventually allow civilian planes from Israel to enter Sudanese airspace, significantly shortening flight times to areas such as South America and other regions.
But ties between Israel and Sudan have a greater significance, 10 months after the Muslim African country’s military deposed president Omar al-Bashir. Under Bashir, Sudan was part of Tehran’s orbit and on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. In 2009, Israel destroyed Iranian weapons shipments going through Sudan to Gaza, and intelligence agencies continued to watch for similar shipments in the ensuing years.
Potential relations between Sudan and Israel indicate the country is taking a more pro-Western tack, as does an invitation extended by Pompeo to al-Burhan to Washington.
Pompeo said in December that Uganda and Israel plan to exchange ambassadors after a 23-year hiatus.
In his meeting with Museveni, Netanyahu suggested that Uganda open an embassy in Jerusalem and that Israel open one in Kampala.
“In every way, we have a historic connection between us. You have a connection to the Bible,” Netanyahu said to Museveni, who is an Evangelical Christian. “I will never forget your visit to Jerusalem, during which you met my late father, the historian. You spoke about the Bible and the roots of our shared heritage.”
Museveni responded that he would examine the matter.
“If a friend says ‘I want the embassy here and not there,’ I don’t see a reason for it not to happen,” he said.
Netanyahu also called for direct flights between Ben-Gurion Airport and Entebbe International Airport, “to allow our friendship to flourish.”
The prime minister pointed out that this is his fifth visit to Uganda – the second as prime minister – and that he met Museveni decades ago.
“Every video is very emotional. It plays on my heartstrings,” Netanyahu said, recounting on the commando raid on Entebbe Airport in 1976 that freed Israeli hostages, in which his brother Yoni was killed.
Netanyahu expressed appreciation that Uganda has a memorial to his brother and others killed in the rescue operation.
The prime minister also discussed growing ties between Israel and African countries, pointing out that this is his fifth visit to the continent in less than four years.
“Israel is back in Africa and Africa is back in Israel – in a big way,” he stated. “It started here in Uganda and it is continuing in Uganda, under your great leadership.”
Israel and Uganda work together in the areas of agriculture, education and innovation, and Netanyahu said that the countries are working on further areas of cooperation, such as cybersecurity.
Netanyahu last visited Uganda in 2016, where he held a seven-country summit and marked the 40th anniversary of the raid on Entebbe and his brother’s death.
Reuters contributed to this report.