Sudanese-Israeli Relations: From Secret Beginnings to a Public End
The meeting between Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Sovereign Council of Sudan, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda two days ago made the relations between the countries public, adding Sudan to the list of countries in contact with Israel.
These secret Sudanese-Israeli relations go back to the beginning of the 1980s when secret meetings took place between former President Gaafar Muhammad Nimeiry and former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon through an Arab mediator. These meetings later paved the way for the deportation of Falasha (Ethiopian Jews) to Tel Aviv.
After the international press revealed the meeting, Nimeiry asked Israel and the US to stop the operation and not to disclose his role in smuggling Falasha Jews. The US, however, started to put pressure Nimeiry in 1985 during a visit by US Vice President George Bush to Khartoum meant to resume the smuggling operation, famously known as the “Saba” operation. Nimeiry succumbed to the pressure on the condition that they are transported to European countries, including Israel.
Sharon recalls in his memoirs that the first meeting with Nimeiry took place during the funeral service of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in Cairo. He was there as part of an Israeli delegation to give condolences.
Sharon said: “I met with Nimeiry for the second time in 1982 to discuss strategic issues that concern Africa. The meeting was arranged by a former Israeli officer in the intelligence services, Yaacob Namrud, and an Arab businessman”. He then added that “I discussed with Nimeiry another issue that was of paramount importance to Sudan and Israel,” hinting at the issue of transporting Falasha Jews to Israel.
The secret communications between Israel and Sudan were discontinued after Nimeiry’s regime was overthrown by the popular revolution in 1985. The Sudanese officials in the security services and the regime were persecuted for taking part in this transportation of the Falasha.
Ousted President Omar al-Bashir maintained public hostility to Israel, considering his extremist Islamic ideology, and joined the camp of countries that are opposed to Israel in the region. This case of normalization of relations with Israel remained present during the marathon negotiations that took place between the overthrown regime and the CIA regarding fighting terrorism after the September 11 attacks.
Reliable sources indicate that one of the conditions that the US kept putting on the table during negotiations with Sudan to remove it from the terrorism list and ending economic sanctions was taking a favorable position towards Israel. This was not rejected by Sudanese negotiators.
Under heavy US pressure and increasing international isolation, the ousted regime responded by cutting relations with Iran and ceasing all support of Hamas, a position that is favorable for Israel. Observers have found that in recent years, the regime has sent positive signs to Israel, expressed by the former Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour, who did not dismiss the possibility of discussing normalizing relations with Israel during discussions with the US over removing the sanctions.
Wikileaks released a conversation with the advisor to the overthrown president, Mostafa Osman Ismail, where he pushed for Washington’s suggestion to normalize ties with Israel as a condition for restoring relations with the US.
Mubarak al Fadil al Mahdi, the Minister of Investment in the last government formation under Bashir before it was overthrown, publicly stated his support of diplomatic relations between Israel and Sudan. He said: “The Sudanese do not find relations with Israel problematic.”