Suddenly Sudan … or not: What happened to the Sudan-Israel peace treaty?

Don’t read too much in Badawi’s removal. The spokesman’s words many have been premature and uttered without due authorization, but sooner or later Sudan is likely to follow the UAE’s lead.

Sudanese civilians wave their national flags during the signing of the Sudan's power sharing deal, Khartoum (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH)
Sudanese civilians wave their national flags during the signing of the Sudan's power sharing deal, Khartoum
It doesn’t exactly seem to be the stuff of which peace is made.
A day after the spokesman at Sudan’s foreign ministry, Haidar Badawi, said that his country was looking forward to a peace agreement with Israel, he was unceremoniously removed from office. Badawi praised the United Arab Emirates for its move in establishing normal relations with Israel, and said that both Israel and Sudan would benefit from such a deal.
Sudanese Foreign Minister-designate Omar Qamar al-Din Ismail said he was “astonished” by the spokesman’s statement, and that he had spoken out of turn. Badawi explained that he was basing his comments on the lack of a denial by top Sudanese officials to a statement made by Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen that, following the normalization accord between Israel and the UAE last week, Israel and Sudan would likely sign a similar deal in the coming year.
But don’t read too much into Badawi’s removal. The spokesman’s words may have been premature and uttered without due authorization – there are political turf wars in Sudan as well – but sooner or later Sudan is likely to follow the UAE’s lead and sign a peace agreement with Israel.
And this is no small Middle East shift, considering that in the early part of the previous decade, Israel – according to foreign sources – periodically attacked weapons convoys or caches in Sudan that originated in Iran and were headed, through Egypt and tunnels in Sinai, to Gaza. After one such attack in 2013, Sudan’s now-deposed dictator Omar al-Bashir vowed that his country would never normalize relations with the “Zionist enemy.”
Yet now, even with the overly talkative Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman sacked, the two countries are on the cusp of doing just that.
Why? There are a number of reasons, but right now the most important one is that the UAE wants it. And the UAE wields a great deal of influence inside Sudan as a result of massive financial aid it and Saudi Arabia gave Bashir over the last decade in an effort to pry him out of the Iranian orbit.
But the two countries soured on Bashir when he did not do enough to rid his government of the Islamists, and the UAE’s decision to stop sending money to Sudan in 2018 as payment for Sudanese troops sent to fight on the Saudi and UAE side against the Iranian-backed forces in Yemen was one of the causes of the demonstrations in Sudan in 2019 that ultimately led to Bashir’s downfall. When the UAE pulled the financial plug on Sudan, Bashir’s rule collapsed.
But the UAE renewed its aid to Sudan immediately after Bashir was deposed – an immediate $3 billion injection in April 2019 – and that gave the UAE enormous leverage over the generals who are now running the country.
And Abu Dhabi is keen on Israeli-Sudanese normalization, and has been even before it announced last week’s agreement with Jerusalem. The UAE was behind the meeting in Uganda in February between Netanyahu and chief of Sudan’s ruling Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, during which they agreed to begin normalizing ties. That meeting was instrumental in paving the way for a phone call between Burhan and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, something very significant to the Sudanese.
What the UAE says has clout in Khartoum, and the UAE is interested in getting other countries to normalize with Israel, so that it is not viewed as isolated in the Arab world.
This is not the first time there has been talk of an imminent breakthrough with Sudan. Following Chad President Idriss Déby’s landmark visit to Israel in November 2018, there were reports that Sudan would be the next African Muslim country to renew ties with Israel – reports that grew stronger following Netanyahu’s visit to Chad the following January.
But then the unrest inside Sudan picked up momentum, leading to the coup that brought down Bashir.
So why do reports of an imminent normalization between Israel and Sudan seem more credible now than the same types of reports following the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and Chad a year and a half ago? Simply because the UAE – as a result of its thick wallet – has significantly more sway inside Sudan than Chad ever did.