A delegation of Israeli officials reportedly traveled to Sudan this week for talks with the country’s new military ruler, according to the Israeli news outlet Kan.
Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan seized power in Sudan in a coup in late 2021, which was harshly condemned by the United States and other Western powers. Israel has officially remained silent and refrained from criticizing the political turmoil in Sudan. In November, an Israeli delegation including Mossad officials visited the coup leaders in Sudan.
After a short stopover in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, the Israeli delegation landed in Khartoum. While the composition of the new visiting Israeli delegation to Sudan remains unclear, Al Arabiya news described it as a “military delegation.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry did not comment on the visit, but a Sudanese military source told Al Jazeera that the second-in-command of the Rapid Support Forces reportedly greeted the Israeli delegation. Rapid Support Forces is a paramilitary force which played a prominent role during the military takeover in Sudan in late 2021. The precise content of the Sudanese-Israeli talks in Khartoum was unclear and the Israeli delegation apparently returned to Israel the same evening.
In October 2020, Sudan normalized relations with Israel after decades of hostility towards the Jewish state. In return for establishing official ties with Jerusalem, the former Trump administration offered Sudan financial assistance and removed the country from Washington’s official list of state sponsors of terror after 27 years.
Sudan was one of four Arab states that normalized their relations with the Jewish state as part of the historic Abraham Accords in 2020. However, unlike Jerusalem’s thriving ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, bilateral relations between Israel and Sudan have evolved very slowly.
In September 2021, a senior Sudanese official informed Israeli media that an official White House signing ceremony would be necessary in order to legitimize the official ties with Israel in the eyes of the Sudanese public.
Moroccan-Israeli ties have developed quickly despite the absence of an official ceremony in Washington so the real reason for cool Sudanese-Israeli relations is not connected to the lack of public signing ceremony.
Unlike Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, Sudan participated in the Six-Day War against the Jewish state in 1967. There are still strong anti-Israel sentiments in Sudan, making normalization with Jerusalem a complex and challenging task for any Sudanese government. In addition, Sudan is one of the world’s most impoverished countries with one of the lowest GDP per capita in the Arab world.
While trade between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco is mutually beneficial, there is very little that Sudan can currently offer the outside world and this imbalance further undermines the normalization efforts. For instance, bilateral trade between the UAE and Israel reached at least $500 million in 2021. By contrast, bilateral Sudanese-Israeli trade is virtually non-existent and in 2020 Israel sent $5 million worth of wheat as humanitarian aid to Sudan.
Unless Sudan’s leaders can present tangible benefits from normalizing the relations with Israel to its people, such as increased Western financial assistance, developing deeper ties with Jerusalem will remain a daunting task.
Sudan’s precarious existence in the shadow of far more powerful and affluent neighbors complicate the normalization process with Israel.
In September 2021, in an exclusive interview with ALL ISRAEL NEWS Editor-in-Chief Joel Rosenberg, Middle East expert Robert Satloff urged the Biden administration to place Sudan higher on the priority list of challenges in the Middle East region.
“I do think America can play a very important role with Sudan, helping ensure a successful democratic transition in Sudan… helping that government affirm its position, strengthening it politically, economically. So, of the four countries that have made this decision, I would urge the administration to focus, especially on Sudan,” said Satloff.