After a week of vague descriptions and photos allegedly contradicting American reports of an Israeli bombing of a weapons convoy, the opposition in Sudan - which does not worry about straining relations with the Arab countries - mentioned that an Israeli attack could only take place by flying over the Red Sea. Did Jordanian radar not identify the planes? Did the Egyptians identify them but keep quiet? Did the Saudis know about the attack?
Commentators said this week the Arab silence over the assault indicated tacit permission by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Both countries are seen favoring attacks on Iranian interests in the region, especially in Sudan because President Omar al-Bashir has stepped up the Iranian presence by signing arms and training agreements.
According to a report published in 2006 by Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Israel has at least two military bases in Eritrea. Another base reportedly sits on a mountain that overlooks the Bab-el-Mandeb strait at the entrance to the Red Sea. According to the report, Israel has around 3,000 soldiers in Eritrea and a naval base with a Dolphin-class submarine.
The ties between Israel and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki began in 1993 when he came here for medical treatment. Two years later, he signed a military-cooperation deal with Israel. Arab media reports also say Israel helped Afewerki win control from Yemen some of the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea. Other reports talk of Israel being allowed to store nuclear waste in Eritrea. Such an Israeli presence would make it possible to supervise ships entering and leaving the Red Sea, to operate radar stations and apparently also to fly unmanned aerial vehicles in the region.
Another subject that could embarrass the Egyptians is the route for smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip. If the convoy headed from Port Sudan to Gaza on land, it would have had to go through many Egyptian roadblocks, whether it traveled via Aswan or along the coastal road to the city of Suez. Is it possible the convoy's leaders assumed they would not be observed?
And if so, was this the first time such convoys have passed through Egypt? Another possible smuggling route is the sea through the Straits of Tiran to Sinai, or through the Suez Canal toward the El Arish coast in the north. But if the smugglers chose a sea path, it's not clear why they would offload their wares in the port instead of continuing all the way to their destination. Perhaps the land route appears safer since no one can observe the convoy until it reaches the Egyptian border. Once inside Egypt, they apparently have accomplices in the local smuggling networks.
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