The Sudan - Israel normalization deal hurts Iran the most - analysis

It is both an ideological and logistical blow.

An African migrant rides his bicycle in a street in south Tel Aviv, Israel October, 25, 2020. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
An African migrant rides his bicycle in a street in south Tel Aviv, Israel October, 25, 2020.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
If round one was some cute but small cymbals percussion, round two has hit the Islamic Republic with a giant vibrating thud like from a giant gong percussion drum.
Of all of the normalization deals that have happened to date and that are likely to happen in the very near future (presuming a deal with the Saudis is not immediate), the Sudan deal hurts Iran by far the most.
It is both an ideological and logistical blow.
The deal is an ideological blow on several grounds.
First, it is the third country in two months – after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – that was formerly part of the Arab-Muslim boycott to move to normalize with Israel.
If Iran was hoping that its threats against the UAE and then Bahrain would deter the tide of normalization and block others from joining, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei must now be realizing that his threats do not carry the weight they once did.
This in and of itself is a huge deal, since Khamenei’s narrative is that the Islamic Republic is constantly expanding its anti-US-Israel-West influence and axis.
As much as Iran can filter what news gets to its citizens and Shi’ite followers in the Middle East, there is no way to block people from learning of three normalizations.
Revolutionary Iran, which is thoroughly theocratic down to the bone, will now need to come up with some kind of bizarre theological answer as to how this can be happening.
Why would Allah help Israel like this if Allah is promoting the rise of the next Shii’te empire?
Connected to that is the ideological fear for the stability of Khamenei’s rule and the regime itself.
Omar al-Bashir was the immutable and eternal ruler of Sudan since 1989. Until 2019, when he was suddenly out.
Part of what makes Khamenei so strong is his veil of invincibility.
But if a 30-year ruler like al-Bashir can fall and normalization with Israel can happen within a couple years, then maybe the same can happen with Khameni and Iran.
The next ideological component is symbolic.
Famously, Khartoum in Sudan was the site of the declaration against normalization with Israel in 1967, when the Arab League declared “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”
The third ideological component is that the normalization trend has moved beyond little countries under Saudi influence in the closer part of the Middle East to Israel.
In our era’s verbiage, the normalization trend is going global.
Sudan has ties to the Saudis, but is not under their influence the way the UAE and Bahrain are, and is an African country with implications for other African countries’ relations with Israel.
And that is just the ideological part that has hurt Iran where it counts.
But the logistical component has hit Iran just as hard.
All of the media is reporting alleged Israeli attacks on Iranian-Hamas weapons smuggling efforts in Sudan in 2009, 2012 and 2014.
Simply put, Sudan for many years was one of the locations of choice where al-Qaeda, Iran, Hamas and other terror groups could disappear from Western surveillance.
It was a prime location for transporting and organizing weapons smuggling, including Iranian long-range missiles, to Hamas and other Iranian proxies for use against Israel.
But the history of using Sudan for one aspect or another of smuggling weapons goes back even further.
Almost exactly 19 years ago, from September 28 to October 3, 2001, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s Karine A, an approximately 50-ton weapons vessel full of long-range missiles and every weapon in the book, successfully used Sudan to try to throw Israeli intelligence off its scent.
The Karine A’s captain, Omar Akawi, was working in Sudan with Adel Mughrabi, a senior PA figure close to Arafat and running PA weapons-smuggling operations along with Riad Abdullah, a top ship operator and a crew of eight Egyptians.
While most of the weapons were loaded onto the Karine A on the island of Kish near the Iranian coast, Sudan was used both for rallying together the crew and for escaping detection by Israeli intelligence.
Only with the help of the CIA and US intelligence satellites was Israel able to later relocate the ship and stop it before it provided Arafat with mega-weapons which would have altered the course of the Second Intifada.
Sudan also fought in the 1948 and 1967 wars.
So unlike UAE and Bahrain, Sudan has been at war and has been deep within Iran’s access for decades.
It is a major physical loss.
The last point with Sudan is a double-hit for Iran in the ideological arena.
The truth is that Sudan and Iran had a falling out in 2015 when Sudan sided with the Saudis against Iran over the war in Yemen.
But that could have been a short-term trend.
With the Saudis lowering their footprint in the Yemen war and the Syrian civil war mostly done, this could be the time when Iran and Sudan reestablished their alliance as they did after a split between the countries regarding the 1991 Gulf War.
Normalizing with Israel solidifies the trend of Iran losing its grasp on the region.
It is an ideological and logistical nightmare for Tehran and its proxies.
And with three countries breaking ranks with the anti-Israel coalition, Khamenei has little he can do but worry about who may be next.