During the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency, the American administration succeeded in convincing Sudan to join the Abraham Accords. Unfortunately, due to the change of American administration and domestic developments both in Israel and Sudan, normalization between Khartoum and Jerusalem was frozen and awaits a final push from both sides.
What could be the benefits of normalization for Sudan and Israel?
Sudan is aware of Israel’s special relations with Ethiopia, Eritrea, and South Sudan, three countries which share common interests with Israel regarding regional politics in general and the Red Sea in particular. Sudan, geographically located between Egypt and Ethiopia, finds itself in the middle of the “Renaissance Dam” controversy and can find in Israel a stabilizing factor with both its neighbors. Moreover, Israel’s special relationship with the U.S. administration and its formidable lobby in Washington could be of great assistance to Khartoum when approaching Washington for financial and military assistance.
Sudan is confronted by many security challenges, not the least of which come from radical Islamic insurgencies, both domestic and foreign. Israel could assist Sudan in perfecting its interception capabilities, as well as provide intelligence on Jihadist movements working to undermine Sudan’s stability.
Sudan could use Israel’s special relations with South Sudan to mediate pending issues of national and regional interest to Khartoum.
Sudan’s economy is largely agricultural, with over 80% of its labor force employed in the agricultural sector. At Sudan’s request, Israel could provide advanced technologies that would dramatically increase harvests, providing food security for the country’s population. Moreover, Israel is a potential market for Sudanese products. In the past, Israel imported meat from farms in Eritrea and this could be repeated in Sudan, a good alternative to South America. Finally, Israel can lead in the much needed effort of water desalination.
With its huge natural resources, Sudan could attract thousands of Israeli tourists, benefiting Sudan’s image abroad and creating another important source of income. Moreover, one should remember that in the not-too-distant past, Sudan used to be a haven for a flourishing Jewish community, occupied mainly in the export of Sudanese agricultural products to the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
The Red Sea is an area of interest for both Sudan and Israel. In 2019, Sudan gave Turkey the concession of operating a seaport on the island of Suakin, which used to be a headquarters of the Ottoman Imperial navy. Suakin could be used as a site for marine monitoring in the Red Sea, especially of the activities of the Iranian-IRGC. Port Sudan could become a hub for drydocks for the entire Red Sea area, facilities that do not exist at present. Moreover, the Red Sea is known for its abundant marine life. Creating a market for those products could boost lucrative exports to Europe and Asia.
Finally, Sudan is the missing link that completes the de-facto southern alliance against Iran. By joining the southern forum, Sudan contains Iran’s movements in the Red Sea and creates a buffer zone that hinders Tehran’s efforts to penetrate the area. From Djibouti to Suez and Eilat and from Bab El-Mandeb to Eilat and Aqaba, the Iranian IRGC could be prevented from destabilizing the area.
From the Israeli point of view, normalizing relations with Sudan means neutralizing the possibility of having to fight against Sudanese expeditionary forces in an overall war against Israel. Sudan, it must be remembered, took part in the last Arab-Israeli war of October 1973 by sending its Tenth Infantry Brigade to the Suez area, facing Israeli forces west of the Suez Canal.
Sudan also served as a passage for thousands of Ethiopian Jews on their way to Israel. A special arrangement was reached at the time between Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Jaafar Nimeiry which allowed Ethiopian Jews to fly from Khartoum to Israel.
Sudan has an important role to play regionally, first and foremost in the maritime arena of the Red Sea. It is not by chance that under the regime of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (who was overthrown in 2019 by the army), Sudan was used by Iran and Hamas and integrated in Tehran’s struggle against Israel. Several attacks on military installations and military convoys supposedly organized to provide Hamas with sophisticated weapons from Iran were attributed to Israel.
The toppling of Bashir’s regime, along with Sudan’s striving towards a vibrant democracy, has contributed in mitigating hostile Iranian influence. With the transformation of the Sudanese regime, the Red Sea, with the exception of the Yemeni shores, has become more secure, and has augmented Israel’s capacity to monitor malevolent activities from Iran and Iranian proxies in the region.
Joining the Abraham Accords club will enable Sudan to enjoy greater possibilities in the political, economic, and military arenas, and will contribute to greater stability in the region. Such a development will also put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to accept real compromise with Israel if they do not want to be forgotten by history.
Normalization with Sudan will encourage the rest of the Arab world and some adjacent countries – specifically, Djibouti, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia – to formalize their relations with Israel, thus creating a formidable shield against Iranian penetration of this part of the globe.
Finally, by structuring a southern containment of Iran, Sudan could complete the puzzle that is meant to contain Iranian hegemony: a belt stretching from Egypt southwards to Yemen, on the one hand, and the Gulf states (with Saudi Arabia and Oman?), on the other hand, while Turkey and Azerbaijan complete the containment of Iran from the north.