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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Hamas Is Very Concerned about Israel’s Normalization with Sudan

Filed under: Hamas

Hamas Is Very Concerned about Israel’s Normalization with Sudan
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir welcomes Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to Khartoum, 2011, (Ikhwan Online)1

There is a serious concern among the Hamas leadership that the normalization agreement between Sudan and Israel will paralyze Hamas’ activities in Sudan.

Sudan had previously allowed Hamas to turn its territory into a major smuggling route for weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip. However, conditions have changed today, and normalization with Israel will commit it to a determined war against all forms of terrorism.

The Hamas movement is very concerned about the declaration of normalization between Sudan and Israel. Sudan, a Sunni Muslim state, has for many years been a convenient setting for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Hamas movement and a vital smuggling route for weapons from Iran into the Gaza Strip because of its location along the Red Sea.

The normalization agreement between Sudan and Israel is a double whammy to Iran and Hamas alike.

On October 23, 2020, Hamas issued a statement condemning the normalization agreement between Sudan and Israel. It expressed its anger and resentment of the agreement, calling on the Sudanese people to “fight all forms of normalization and have nothing to do with the criminal enemy.”

Hamas’ statement warned that the agreement would not bring stability to Sudan, would not improve its situation, “and would tear up Sudan itself.”

A Pariah State

Sudan was a terrorist-supporting state that hosted al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden and even embraced Hamas.

This policy was conducted by General Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan from 1989 to 2019, dispersed the National Assembly, and governed with martial law that applied Muslim Sharia law. In March 2009, al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court for being criminally responsible for a savage campaign of killing, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur. Al-Bashir was deposed in a coup in April 2019.

Israeli Airstrikes in Sudan

More than ten years ago, Israeli intelligence discovered that Sudan served as a major route for transferring weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

According to foreign sources (and confirmed by Israeli security sources over the years), the Israeli Air Force attacked targets inside Sudan several times as part of Israel’s fight against Iran smuggling weapons through Sudan into the Gaza Strip for Hamas.

In March 2009, Time Magazine published reports from Israeli security officials that Israeli planes and unmanned aircraft attacked a Sudanese convoy during the anti-Hamas Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.  The convoy consisted of 23 trucks carrying weapons intended for the Gaza Strip. The Israeli air operation aimed to stop the supply of weapons to Hamas and send a message to Iran about Israel’s precise intelligence and operational capabilities.

Destroyed convoy in Sudan
Screenshot from video of the destroyed convoy in Sudan. (YouTube, Al Jazeera)2

The attack against the arms supply was a complex operation 1,800 miles from Israel that required refueling of the F-16 fighter jets in the air over the Red Sea. The convoy was carrying some 120 tons of Iranian weapons, including anti-tank missiles and al-Fajr-3 rockets capable of reaching 40km (25 miles) and equipped with a 45kg warhead.

Several Iranian civilians and Sudanese smugglers were killed in the strike.  A few days before the attack, the United States warned the Sudanese government not to allow the smuggling of weapons from its territory. The Sudanese government ignored the warning, and the Israeli strike came.

However, despite the successful Israeli attack, arms smuggling continued from Sudanese territory to the Gaza Strip.

Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s General Security Services, revealed at a government meeting in 2009 that in the months after Operation Cast Lead, 22 tons of standard explosives, 45 tons of raw materials to create weapons, dozens of standard rockets, hundreds of mortar shells, and dozens of anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles had been smuggled into the Gaza Strip.

Egypt was aware of the weapons smuggling from Sudan to the Gaza Strip and also worked to thwart the smuggling during the rule of President Hosni Mubarak. In March 2011, Egypt officially announced that the Egyptian army had stopped five vehicles carrying any weapons from Sudan on their way to the Gaza Strip, and the weapons were seized in the border area between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The shipment included large quantities of mortar shells, grenades, and explosives that were supposed to be smuggled through the tunnels into the Gaza Strip.

According to foreign sources, in October 2012, four Israeli Air Force planes attacked the Iranian al-Yarmouk plant in Sudan, which produced ammunition and weapons for Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Two people were killed in the attack.  According to various reports, Iran had established the factory as early as 2008.

Below are three different satellite photographs of the al-Yarmouk weapons plant. One photograph was taken before the attack when 40 shipping containers were stacked at the factory complex, the second after the explosion, and the third with infrared enhancement.

Satellite Sentinel Project photographs
Satellite Sentinel Project photographs, October 2012.3
The Yarmouk base in Khartoum, Sudan, on October 26, 2012
The Yarmouk base in Khartoum, Sudan, on October 26, 2012.  (United Nations, Satellite Sentinel Project)4

“The imagery shows six large craters, each approximately 16 meters across and consistent with impact craters created by air-delivered munitions, centered in a location where, until recently, some 40 shipping containers had been stacked,” the Satellite Sentinel Project said in a statement. “An October 12 image shows the storage containers stacked next to a 60-meter-long shed,” it said. “While (Sentinel) cannot confirm that the containers remained on the site on October 24, analysis of the imagery is consistent with the presence of highly volatile cargo in the epicenter of the explosions.”4

According to intelligence experts, a large stockpile of Fajr-5 rockets was destroyed in the attack that was supposed to reach Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The stockpile may have also contained medium-range “Shahab-3” ballistic missiles with a range of 1,280 km (800 miles) that were supposed to be stationed in Sudan and threaten Israel.

When Did Sudan Start Working against Hamas?

In 2014, there was a turning point in Sudan when ruler Omar al-Bashir clashed with Iran, claiming that Iran was working to spread the Shiite religion in Sunni Sudan. Sudan expelled Iran’s cultural attaché from its territory and closed Iranian cultural centers on its territory. The Sudanese decision was apparently made following pressure from Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s foe.

The Iranian Navy’s Kharg transport ship
The Iranian Navy’s Kharg transport ship (the Iranians call it a “helicopter carrier”), accompanied by a corvette (called a destroyer), visited Port Sudan less than a week after the attack on the Yarmouk factory. (2012, Sudan Tribune/Iran’s Press TV)

The crisis in relations between Sudan and Iran also had an impact on relations with Hamas. Sudan cooperated with Iran in smuggling weapons through its territory to Egypt and from there to the Gaza Strip. The weapons came in Iranian ships that regularly docked in Port Sudan.5

In March 2014, IDF naval commandos seized the KLOS-C ship in the Red Sea. The Panama-registered ship, bearing 100 containers of weapons and cement from Iran, was supposed to arrive at Port Sudan. The IDF captured long-range missiles with 200 km ranges that were destined for the Gaza Strip via Hamas’ tunnels.

Weaponry confiscated the IDF after interdicted the Klos-C in the Red Sea
Weaponry confiscated the IDF after interdicted the Klos-C in the Red Sea. (IDF Spokesman’s Office)

The interdiction occurred 1,500 km (900 miles) from Israel and demonstrated once more Israel’s superior intelligence and operations capabilities in the war against Iranian-Hamas terrorism.

After clashing with Iran, Sudan closed down Hamas offices in its territory and began arresting movement’s operative who had established a terrorist infrastructure in the country.

Following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting in Entebbe, Uganda, on February 3, 2020, with Sudan’s Sovereign Council Chairman, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, it was reported that Hamas attempted to establish a branch for intelligence missions in Africa in Sudan.

The Intel Times website reported in July 2020 that the Sudanese authorities arrested in Khartoum Muhammad Ramadan’ Abd al-Gafur, head of the Africa branch of the Intelligence Division of Hamas’ military wing. This is the branch of Hamas that deals with building the organization’s military force through Hamas affiliates in Malaysia, Turkey, and Lebanon.

In light of Hamas’ extensive activity in Sudan in the past, the organization fears that the normalization agreement between Israel and Sudan will include appendixes on the two countries’ war against terrorism, which will tighten Sudanese security officials’ monitoring of Hamas operatives in the country.

Hamas activists still have a presence in the country and are assisted by Muslim Brotherhood activists and opposition figures.

After President Trump removed Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, the Khartoum regime is now motivated to portray itself to the world as a country determined to fight terrorism.

The process of normalizing relations between Arab countries and Israel is terrible news for Hamas when it comes to its military activities. The Gulf States are already limiting Hamas’ steps. In Saudi Arabia, 60 Hamas activists are being prosecuted for smuggling money through Turkey to Hamas’ military wing in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas estimates that any Arab or Islamic state that joins the normalization process with Israel will have to commit to the United States and Israel that it will fight terrorism, which means severely harming its military wing operations overseas, in addition to the political harm to the organization being defined as a “terrorist organization.”

In the framework of the peace agreement with Israel, this should also be a test for Sudan – committing to fighting both Shiite and Sunni terrorist organizations, including Hamas, which is on the top of the list due to its past activities. Israel and the U.S. will not give up on this issue, and therefore, Hamas is under considerable pressure.

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