Voices from the Arab press: Sudan enters a dark tunnel

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 GATHERING AT the station to flee clashes in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum, April 19.  (photo credit: El-Tayeb Siddig/Reuters)
GATHERING AT the station to flee clashes in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum, April 19.
(photo credit: El-Tayeb Siddig/Reuters)

Sudan enters a dark tunnel

Okaz, Saudi Arabia, April 19

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Violent clashes between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have led to dozens of casualties, affecting almost all parts of Sudan. To understand the current events, we must look back to 2013 when then-Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir issued a decision to form the RSF. His intention was to rely on the Janjaweed militias’ successful military experience in Darfur to create a parallel army that would prevent a possible army-led coup against him. 

The RSF has never been affiliated with the country’s regular armed forces and remains a separate entity. For the past four years, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, leader of the Sudanese Armed Forces, and Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, the head of the RSF, have been in an alliance. But those in the know and observers of the situation in Sudan were aware that the rift between the army and RSF was inevitable.

Having two armies and two leaders is incompatible with the proper governance of a state. Furthermore, army leaders declared without ambiguity that the survival of the RSF was unsustainable and that it must be subject to the army. During the Sudanese transitional phase, tensions and political differences were rampant, until political forces in line with the military establishment reached the so-called Framework Agreement in December. This agreement called for the integration of the RSF into the Sudanese Army on a mutually agreed timeline. 

The bone-breaking conflict currently ravaging Sudan shows no signs of abating, and both sides seem determined to keep fighting. The nature of the conflict – with small, mobile groups skilled in urban warfare – makes a resolution difficult to envision in the near future. Yet, it is the Sudanese people who will suffer the most, as the sound of gunfire drowns out the voice of reason. In these trying days, we pray to God that He may guide Sudanese leaders to the negotiating table, thereby sparing their country and people a long journey down a dark tunnel. – Rami Al-Khalifa Al-Ali 

Israel and the ICC

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, April 19

The Arab media has taken notice of the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue a formal arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on charges of war crimes, namely the kidnapping and deportation of Ukrainian children. This development is an immense escalation against the Russian president and a continuation of the zero-sum game in the ongoing Ukraine conflict. 

 ICC PROSECUTOR Karim Khan (R) and Ukrainian prosecutor-general Andriy Kostin visit a residential building damaged by a Russian missile in late Nov., outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 28.  (credit: VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS) ICC PROSECUTOR Karim Khan (R) and Ukrainian prosecutor-general Andriy Kostin visit a residential building damaged by a Russian missile in late Nov., outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 28. (credit: VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS)

Relatedly, I was among the first to express support for the court in its mission to address Israeli war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. I also alluded to the US-led atrocities in Abu Ghraib prison. While some ICC prosecutors of African origin focused their remarks on Africa alone, others also touched upon Palestine and Iraq. 

The Palestinian Authority presented a dossier to the court in 2015 regarding the Israeli offenses during the 2014 Gaza war, followed by another brief in 2018 on Israel’s handling of Palestinian protests. After several indications of the court’s intention to launch formal investigations, the Israeli government made it clear from the onset that it was unconcerned with the court since it had not joined its statute. 

Israel, the US, Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and Iraq all rejected the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002. The ICC’s mandate has only been ratified by 66 countries, and it largely focuses on African nations. This has led to accusations that the court is a tool of oppression rather than justice. 

Washington has continually asked for an exception to the court’s jurisdiction for its soldiers in Bosnia in order to avoid any accountability. This exception was renewed annually by the UN Security Council until the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was exposed in 2004. This reinforced the notion that when laws benefit the powerful, injustice becomes prevalent. 

A few weeks ago, Western capitals celebrated the decision to summon Putin to the court, hailing it as a diplomatic victory. However, such a triumph may be short-lived, as it opens up the court to double standards and undermines its credibility. Depending on the outcome of the Ukraine conflict, the court may need to be reshaped to better fit the new international balance of power, one in which Washington is not a sole authority enjoying impunity. However, an outright defeat of Russia is unlikely, and so the court’s double standards and selectivity, as well as its connection to Western orders, will remain. 

There is an opportunity for a Palestinian and Arab movement, as well as all those who support Palestinian rights, to make a swift and orderly move. This action should not be delayed, regardless of the outcome of the Ukrainian war. Israel’s current transgressions disregard all existing legal frameworks, even if some of them are vague and ambiguous, such as the UN Charter, international agreements on the treatment of people under occupation, and human rights covenants. 

This window of opportunity should be taken advantage of to increase the pressure on Israel and its transgressions, and to embarrass Washington and the West for their double standards. There is a wide range of legal basis to base these claims, including murder, torture, extortion of citizens, desecration of religious sanctities, racial persecution and many more. All of these should be taken into consideration when attempting to enforce the law on Israel, just like it is being enforced on Russia.  – Muhammad Badr El-Din Zayed

Israel’s security at a crossroads

An-Nahar, Lebanon April 18

A recent report from the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic and Security Studies in Israel declared: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” This is an apt description of the current situation facing the Jewish state. Israel is now confronted with a schism between the conservative religious Right and the more liberal Left, which has taken a dangerous turn following the current government’s proposal to reduce the powers of the judiciary and transform the country from a liberal democracy into an illiberal one. This would grant the ruling party or coalition unprecedented legislative freedom, without the oversight of the judicial authority. This could potentially lead to an autocratic regime, incompatible with Western democratic values. 

A recent report calls on Israel to be prepared to enter a war without the help of the US. Open US military assistance to Israel has been present since president Lyndon B. Johnson’s term, with even greater support from Britain and France in the early years of Israel’s existence. Modern American weapons began arriving in Israel in the mid-1960s, and the relationship between the two countries has grown to what it is today. 

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Middle East has become a region dominated by Israel, with American support and the prevention of other nations from obtaining nuclear weapons – excluding, of course, Israel’s own nuclear arsenal. As a result, Israel continues to lead the region in terms of weaponry, thanks also to America and the West. 

Israel is facing a momentous internal struggle over its identity and shape in a rapidly changing world. Recent reports have suggested that conservative Israeli strategists have noticed a decline in the effectiveness of Israel’s deterrence. Though this perception may be exaggerated, it is being discussed and has prompted conversations concerning Israel’s need to become less reliant on the US, which is preoccupied with its own issues regarding the growing Chinese threat in Asia. 

The report pays special attention to the Iranian threat, whether through its nuclear program, or its militias armed with missiles and other weapons, located on Israel’s borders. The Israeli military doctrine is characterized by its offensive nature and is based on several key principles. These include launching preemptive strikes to maintain Israeli military superiority, pushing any battle away from the Israeli home front, utilizing intelligence superiority to anticipate enemy steps, limiting military confrontations to a short time frame, and preventing any Middle Eastern country from acquiring nuclear weapons for military use. The Israeli deterrence strategy is rooted in the notion of preventing hostile powers from threatening its existence. Israel’s nuclear weapon, then and now, is meant to prevent enemies from launching a devastating attack against the Jewish state.

As a small country, Israel has established a red line that must not be crossed: the acquisition of nuclear weapons. This was demonstrated by the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and the Syrian facility in Deir ez-Zor in 2007. Today, the Jewish state is confronted with the Iranian nuclear program, which has advanced further than any other program in the region, and according to estimates from American and Israeli military officials, is nearing military-grade nuclear weapons. 

If Israel is determined to act unilaterally without American support, two major obstacles arise. First, Israel currently lacks an adequate number of modern aerial refueling planes. Though Washington had previously agreed to sell Israel KC-46 aircraft, it has yet to follow through, citing the priority of meeting the needs of its own forces. However, the US has participated in joint air exercises with Israel, in which American planes provide in-air fueling, to simulate an attack on Iran. Israel has a robust squadron of attack aircraft, such as the F-35, F-15 and F-16, but would require multiple refueling stops to reach Iranian airspace, conduct deep strikes, and return home.

The second challenge Israel faces is how to counter the growing threat of Iranian-affiliated militias on its northern and southern borders. Currently, the Iron Dome air defense system is tasked with the defense of Israeli cities, settlements and military airports against missiles, while an integrated air defense system defends against drones and ballistic and cruise missiles. 

But the question remains: How can Israel stand up to a comprehensive and coordinated attack emanating simultaneously from southern Lebanon, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip? Does Israel have enough Iron Dome missiles to adequately protect itself against such an ambush? What if Iran can deliver air defense systems that interfere with Israeli air control? 

To address this, Israel is developing the Iron Beam system, which uses lasers to shoot down missiles and drones. This system has a much lower operational cost than Iron Dome and does not require ammunition, as it runs on electrical energy to generate damage. 

Will the mounting fear in Israel spur it to launch a unilateral military mission? How will it confront the threats on its borders, and what will be the cost? Or, with its weak internal unity and lack of US military support, will Israel be forced to adapt its military doctrine to be purely defensive and to coexist with the new reality that may include a nuclear Iran? How will Israel address the Chinese effort to bring Iran and the Arab states together to create a new security structure in the region?  One should not underestimate the choices facing Israel today, as it experiences the growing disapproval of Western society for its discriminatory policies against the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is at a crossroads, with multiple axes that will determine the future of the Jewish state, and, with it, the form of the regional system in the coming years. – Riad Kahwaji 

Israel losing its chance to secure a peaceful solution

Al-Ahram, Egypt, April 16

The recent weeks in Israel have seen a historic division, not of ethnicities or of the Left-Right political spectrum, but rather over the country’s historical origins and foundations. Tensions erupted when the government proposed to reduce the power of the judiciary, leading to protests, strikes and even the closure of Ben-Gurion Airport. Ultimately, Prime Minister Netanyahu appeared on television, comparing his situation to that of King Solomon. Thus, as Israel strives to find its identity, it remains divided and unstable. 

The recent days have seen a continuation of the attacks on al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as the ongoing violent incursions into Palestinian towns and cities. This is being done under the auspices of religious foundations, zealous settler movements, and far-right parliamentarians. The pattern of violence is usually the same: an attack on a holy place followed by retaliatory missile fire from either Gaza or Lebanon, which then sets off a major Israeli bombardment of Palestinian territories. 

By disregarding the peace agreements, Israel has dragged the conflict into the realm of religion, where no one can win, and no party can ever accept defeat. In doing so, it is putting itself at risk of losing a chance at peaceful coexistence in the Middle East – a chance that is slowly but surely diminishing before our eyes.  – Abdel Monem Said 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.