Upon hearing of a breakthrough in the relationship between Israel and Sudan, Israelis will undoubtedly have a sense that their country has come full circle. It was on September 1, 1967, just after Israel’s lightening victory in the Six Day War, that an Arab League Summit convened in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and issued what became known as the Khartoum Declaration, or simply the three no’s: “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.” Today, that declaration has been reversed, symbolizing the beginning of the end to the Arab-Israeli wars that raged for decades in the past.
People forget that Sudan actually is an Arab state and a member of the Arab League. It decided that the time had arrived for its new Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council to meet openly with the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Precisely when the Palestinian Authority was trying to incite the Arab world against the Trump plan, one of the largest Arab countries was thawing its relationship with Israel.
In the past, Sudan had multiple connections to the worst conflicts which Israel and the West have faced. The Sudanese brought together many of the main Islamist militant organizations from around the Middle East and supplied them with training camps, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Algerian GIA, Hezbollah, and even the PLO (just prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords). Sudan was one of the earliest places that hosted the Saudi jihadist Osama bin Laden, before he made Afghanistan his main base of operations in the summer of 1996. It provided neutral ground where al-Qaeda could meet with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Sudan was incorporated into the regional network of Iran as well. Tehran gained access to Port Sudan on the Red Sea for its naval forces. Iranian ships would leave the Persian Gulf and enter the Red Sea, moving up to Sudanese ports.
Frequently they transported shipments of Iranian weapons that were carried by trucks northward into Sudan and Egypt, destined for the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. This was one of the key supply routes for Hamas as it built up its capacity to wage war against Israel. As a result of the Yemen war, Sudan decided that it would no longer maintain a pro-Iranian orientation; it now aligned its foreign policy with Saudi Arabia. As a result, Hamas lost its Sudanese line of supply.
Additionally, Sudan waged a brutal civil war in its western province of Darfur, along its border with Chad. International bodies have many times characterized the past actions of the Sudanese Army in Darfur as outright genocide. That was also the position of the U.S. government. The ICC determined that Sudan’s previous president, Omar al-Bashir, is complicit in genocide.
In short, while it was geographically on the periphery of the Middle East, Sudan was part of the joint front against Israel in many significant ways. With Sudan exploring new ties with Israel, that front has been split. And the forces that waged war against the West over the last two decades have lost one of their most important bases of operations.
A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on February 3, 2020.