Continuing the diplomatic momentum created by the Abraham Accords, Sudan – formerly a bitter foe of Israel – announced in late October that it would open talks to secure normalization, following in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which are forging ahead to cement bilateral ties with Israel.
US President Donald Trump was eager to secure Khartoum’s agreement before the November 3 election, presenting the end of Israel’s isolation in the Arab world as a major foreign policy achievement for his administration. He agreed to remove Sudan from the list of countries supporting terrorism, enabling the impoverished state to apply for much-needed international loans.
“This is a new era. An era of true peace. A peace that is expanding with other Arab countries - three of them in recent weeks,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement. “In Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, the three principles of the Arab League were adopted in 1967: ‘No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel.’ Whereas today Khartoum says – yes to peace with Israel, yes to recognition of Israel and to normalization with Israel,” he exclaimed.
Full normalization is still some way off, largely due to the political uncertainty in Sudan that has reigned ever since the dictator Omar al-Bashir was ousted from office last year, and the deal still needs to be approved by a new parliament following elections scheduled for next year. In sharp contrast to the agreements with the UAE, the possibility of normalization with Israel created differences of opinion between Sudan’s military council, which supports the agreement, and the civilian government, which voiced opposition.
There were also demonstrations on the streets of Khartoum with Israeli flags set on fire and important political figures speaking out against the move.
Unlike the normalization deals with the UAE and Bahrain, the agreement with Sudan is unlikely to produce significant bilateral benefits. Sudan, the third-biggest country on the African continent, is also one of the poorest and is in the midst of a severe economic crisis. Sudan has nothing to export to Israel and will not be able to afford to purchase many Israeli goods.
The main achievements are regional and strategic.
Sudan sent troops to fight against Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and, in recent years, had allowed Iran to establish arms factories and a smuggling infrastructure that served Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
Sudan now becomes the fifth Arab League state to leave the cycle of conflict, and Khartoum will no longer provide a base for anti-Israel political and security activity.
The agreement also significantly reinforces Israel’s presence in Africa in a state that serves as an important bridge between Arab North Africa and the sub-Saharan continent.
In a conference call with Netanyahu and Sudan’s Sovereign Council President Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, Trump said, “There are many, many more [peace deals] coming.”
Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen named another five states that could potentially sign normalization agreements with Israel but said implementing further deals could depend on the next US president displaying continued “resolve” against Iran.
“Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Morocco and Niger are on the agenda,” he said. “And if the Trump policy continues, we will be able to reach additional agreements.”
Hinting that a presidency of Democratic nominee Joe Biden could delay the momentum, Cohen indicated that Trump’s policy had prompted Arab and Muslim countries to seek accommodation with Israel.
If the next president “does not show resolve vis-a-vis Iran, then what will happen is that they will take their time, will not rush, will not choose a side,” Cohen said. “A concessionary policy [toward Iran] will get the peace deals stuck.” It remains to be seen if the normalization momentum will be maintained under the incoming Biden administration.
The developing ties with Khartoum may impact dramatically on the approximately 6,000 Sudanese asylum-seekers currently in Israel.
A professional committee will be set up to draw up plans to repatriate the Sudanese migrants and Sudanese officials reportedly agreed to their return after Israel made it clear it wants to repatriate “as many as possible.” Munim Haroon, an asylum-seeker from Sudan who lives near Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Report that even though the prospect of normalization is an exciting development, the overwhelming majority will not want to go back home even if Jerusalem and Khartoum establish full diplomatic relations.
“Some people are a little bit worried over the intention of the Israeli government to deport people back to Sudan. The Israeli government is trying to sell the narrative that normalization means they can deport us but that is not true because due to ethnic cleansing and genocide it’s still not safe to go back to Sudan” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of Sudanese in Israel have families in internal displacement camps back home or are refugees in neighboring Chad. Israel should act according to international law and consider our asylum requests.” According to Yonatan Jakubowicz from the Israel Immigration Policy Center, many western countries have returned migrants to Sudan and the normalization agreement paves the way for Israel to follow suit.
“It’s important to understand that over 5,000 have already returned to Sudan from Israel and I don’t see any reason more can’t return even if there is no formal deportation agreement. Unless we are talking about people who are opponents of the government I don’t see why there would be an issue,” he said. “I don’t expect a mass deportation that will happen very fast. It will happen gradually and it’s possible that Sudan will insist on some kind of professional training, such as in agriculture, to enable them to restart their lives and I’m all for that.” As the Sudan breakthrough occurred, both the UAE and Bahrain were busy deepening their ties with Israel.
During the inaugural visit of a top-level Emirati delegation to Israel in late October, the two countries ratified a host of agreements including mutual visa exemptions, investment protections, aviation and scientific cooperation.
The military aspects of the normalization deal became clear when the White House informed Congress of the administration’s intention to sell 50 F-35 stealth jets to the United Arab Emirates. Netanyahu continued to insist that the UAE had not made signing the normalization treaty contingent upon Israel’s consent to the sale of the planes. He said that Israel only gave its consent following the conclusion of talks that were held by an Israeli security delegation with Pentagon officials about maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.
In order to compensate Israel and maintain Jerusalem’s qualitative edge, Israel has secured an acquisition deal from Washington that reportedly includes the advanced F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet, which up till now the US has refused to sell to any foreign country. Also on the list are four tanker aircraft, attack helicopters and precision-guided munitions for IAF jets.
Meanwhile, two US lawmakers have also asked Congress to allow Israel to buy 30,000 lb. (14,000 kg.) GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) “bunker-buster” bombs.