During his recent visit to Khartoum on August 25, 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had hoped to push the Sudanese government toward a rapprochement with Israel, but he left empty‑handed. This comes despite the earlier enthusiasm displayed by General Abdel Fattah al‑Burhan, Chair of the Sudanese Sovereign Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, at the surprise meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Kampala, Uganda, in February 2020. That meeting, arranged by the USA, is the only public meeting held between the heads of the two countries to date.

Al-Burhan had announced that he was meeting with Pompeo, who had travelled from Tel Aviv, to negotiate Sudan’s removal from the US list of State sponsors of terrorism. Popular protest was limited, especially when compared to the demonstrations that Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) has organized since President Omar al-Bashir was deposed. Most of the resistance to the rapprochement with Israel has been based on the transitional government’s lack of a mandate to decide the matter, rather than on the non‑recognition of Israel, which is the traditional discourse in Sudanese politics. On the Palestinian question, the Sudanese government has only affirmed the Palestinians’ right to establish an independent State in accordance with international resolutions.

Sudan’s decision to delay establishing relations with Israel, in particular after Pompeo’s recent visit to Khartoum, can be interpreted in light of the following:

1. Failure of the US administration to fulfil its promises to the Sudanese military leadership

Following the Kampala meeting, Pompeo invited al-Burhan to visit Washington D.C. later in 2020 and thanked him for “leading” the normalization of Sudan’s ties with Israel.[1] The US administration had previously favored the civilian‑led arm of the transitional authority[2] and had received Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in December 2019, but Pompeo’s gesture suggested that Washington now intended to support the relatively more powerful military component of Sudan’s transitional authority. Consequently, the Sudanese army declared its support for al‑Burhan’s public rapprochement with Israel. In February 2020, following a meeting with al-Burhan and army leaders,[3] the military spokes figure announced that approval had been given for Israel‑bound flights to cross Sudanese airspace.

However, six months on from the Kampala meeting, the US administration has still not arranged al‑Burhan’s visit and has repeatedly favored a “civilian-led” Sudanese government in official statements. Moreover, the US administration reneged on its promise to al‑Burhan to support the conclusion of the United Nations–African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur in October 2020; the UN Security Council agreed to extend the mandate of the military peacekeeping mission until December 2020 in principle, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2525 (2020), adopted in early June.

As a result of the USA’s failure to honor its agreements, in late May 2020 the Sudanese army backtracked on the rapprochement with Israel. It also denied that there was an agreement allowing Israeli flights to cross Sudanese airspace, after it was widely reported in the media that an Israeli plane had landed in Khartoum airport.[4] During his August meeting in Khartoum with the US Secretary of State, al-Burhan requested financial support and Sudan’s removal from the list of State sponsors of terrorism in exchange for establishing official ties with Israel.[5] Pompeo promised to study these requests with the Israeli government.

2. Widespread rejection of the establishment of official relations with Israel within the civilian arm of the transitional authority

The civilian arm of the transitional authority, which includes the Cabinet and the FFC, rejected the Kampala meeting, fearing that its own influence over the transitional phase would slip if military chiefs were allowed to lead the detente with Israel. It announced that the meeting had taken place in its absence, stressing that the transitional authority had no power to establish official relations with Israel until a transitional legislative council had been formed and the constitutional conference on the preparation of a new draft constitution had been held. This created a crisis between the Sovereign Council and the Cabinet, with the Foreign Policy Director of the Sovereign Council, Rashad Faraj al-Tayeb, resigning in protest at the normalization of relations with Israel.

Members of the Sovereign Council, including leader of the Rapid Support Forces, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, were subsequently forced to mediate between the Sovereign Council and the Cabinet in order to contain the crisis.[6] The National Consensus Forces (an FFC member) considered the meeting between al-Burhan and Netanyahu a prelude to a silent coup against the transitional government,[7] and Sudanese resistance committees close to the alliance organized a limited number of protests in Khartoum in rejection of the move.

The civilian arm of the transitional authority did not shift its position before Pompeo’s recent trip to Sudan. Prime Minister Hamdok anticipated the visit by holding an “emergency” meeting with the FFC Central Council to agree to reject the normalization of relations with Israel for the time being.[8] The Foreign Ministry also dismissed its official spokesperson, Haider Sadiq, after he stated that Sudanese and Israeli officials were communicating outside of the ministry. The Foreign Ministry denied that there had been any communication, despite Israeli confirmation to the contrary.

To prevent Islamist forces from using the issue of normalization to intensify their offensive against the civilian arm of the transitional authority, the FFC‑affiliated National Ummah Party held a meeting with leaders of the Popular Congress Party (currently the largest official Islamist party) to emphasize that it would reject any decision to normalize relations with Israel except where taken by an “elected government”, as opposed to the current transitional government.[9] In contrast, the armed movements of the Revolutionary Front, also an FCC member, welcomed the establishment of official relations with Tel Aviv.[10]

3. Reduced expected payoff from the establishment of official relations with Israel

Prior to Pompeo’s visit, the transitional government had made significant strides on the path to Sudan’s removal from the US list of State sponsors of terrorism. After leaving Khartoum, Pompeo announced that Sudan’s removal was contingent on a $330 million compensation payment to the victims of the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salam in 1998, in accordance with a settlement agreed with the US administration before his visit.[11] This gave acting Sudanese Foreign Minister Omar Qamar al-Din confidence that Sudan would be removed from the list, regardless of developments in its relations with Israel;[12] according to the Minister, the matter had become one of “US public opinion”,[13] especially considering the ongoing race between the Republicans and Democrats to win the US presidential elections scheduled for November 2020.

In light of this apparent willingness to remove the country from the list, the Sudanese government has decided to delay establishing official ties with Israel; in doing so, it hopes to avoid the expected repercussions of siding with either US political party, especially given the difficulty of ensuring that Washington upholds its promises in the event that President Trump loses the election. Moreover, the USA has failed to provide any clear commitments in exchange for normalization, according to Qamar al-Din. The Sudanese government has not denied reports that it requested $10 billion in financial aid to cover the transitional period,[14] a sum that the acting Sudanese Foreign Minister deemed “not worth mentioning”.[15]

Conclusion

Sudan’s ruling coalition has delayed the establishment of official relations with Israel, as it wants to gain more from the current US offer and as it fears that its rivals both inside and outside the coalition will use the move to undermine its influence over the transitional administration. Sudan’s normalization of relations with Israel now depends on whether the USA and Israel can make an offer that meets its demands, and whether the legislative council can be formed and the constitutional conference held in a way that limits disagreements within the ruling coalition and ultimately allows stability to be achieved during the transitional period.

Endnotes

[1] بومبيو يشكر رئيس مجلس سيادة السودان على قيادته السعي للتطبيع مع إسرائيل.. ويدعوه للقائه بواشنطن”, February 4, 2020. Available at: https://cnn.it/3jXhGty

[2] The transitional Sudanese government structure was built on a military–civil partnership that led to the formation of the Cabinet, which is affiliated with the civilian arm, and the Sovereign Council, which includes the most prominent military leaders of the Sudanese army, headed by the current chair, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. The civilian and military arms of the transitional government are competing over which of them should manage various aspects of the transitional period, especially foreign relations, the economy, and peace with the armed movements.

[3] "السودان سيفتح مجاله الجوي للطائرات التجارية المتجهة إلى إسرائيل", February 6, 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3bEJ7oV

[4] "نتنياهو يعلن بدء تحليق طائرات تجارية إسرائيلية في أجواء السودان", February 17, 2020. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/arabic/middleeast-51526507

[5] "الخرطوم تتحسب لوعود عرقوب أمريكية.. وتطالب بالثمن قبل التطبيع", September 3, 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3m4TxDi

[6] "اجتماع مغلق بين البرهان وحمدوك يتوج بالاتفاق على تعزيز العمل المشترك", February 6, 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/32c0mes

[7] "مليونية لتحقيق مطالب الثورة بأمر قوى الإجماع الوطني", February 7, 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2FbYOIn

[8] "الاتفاق الحاكم يبلغ حمدوك رفضه التطبيع قبيل ساعات من وصول بومبيو", August 24, 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2D7IG9U

[9] "(الأمة) و(المؤتمر الشعبي) يناقشان التطورات السياسية في الساحة السودانية", August 30, 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2ZcD7Pj

[10] The Revolutionary Front’s support for the establishment of official relations with Israel can be explained by the fact that they already have public relations in the context of their opposition to the al‑Bashir regime. In addition, there are thousands of Darfuri asylum seekers in Israel, and the Justice and Equality Movement has had a representative office in Israel for several years.

[11] "وزير الإعلام: 330 مليون دولار تعويضات مقابل رفع اسم السودان من قوائم الإرهاب", August 27, 2020. Available at: https://www.alsudaninews.com/ar/?p=87141.

[12] "وزير خارجية السودان: بومبيو وضع الإزالة من قائمة الإرهاب مقابل التطبيع", September 5, 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2GqjEnE

[13] "أمريكا تفاوض الخرطوم..", September 5, 2020. Available at: https://www.elmogaz.com/635760

[14] "تقرير: السودان طلب مساعدات مالية ضخمة من واشنطن نظير التطبيع مع إسرائيل", September 4, 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3m0xRYN

[15] " المساعدات الأمريكية للسودان (لا تستحق الذكر) :عُمر قمر الدين”, (no date). Available at: https://ajwad.news/8007

 

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