What is Sudan hiding about the air strike it blamed on Israel?
Tuesday's attack by fighter jets demolished a car and killed its two passengers, which reportedly included an Islamist responsible for supplying weapons to Hamas.
Sudan accused Israel yesterday of launching a missile strike on its territory on Tuesday - an attack that demolished a car and killed its two passengers. Israel did not comment on the attack or the accusations.
The full extent of the strike and the identity of the victims are not clear yet, but the Al-Arabiya news network reported yesterday that an Islamist responsible for supplying weapons to Hamas was apparently among the two people killed.
If Israel is responsible for the attack, as foreign media reports suggested yesterday, it would appear to be another step in Israel's global campaign to stop Iranian arms smuggling into the region.
The Sudanese Media Center, a news agency associated with the African nation's security services, reported yesterday that at about 9 P.M. local time (10 P.M. Israel time ) missiles struck a vehicle on the main road from Khartoum airport, 14 kilometers from Port Sudan, killing the car's two occupants.
According to one version, the missiles were fired from unidentified fighter jets that came from the east over the Red Sea. One of the victims was said to be a Sudanese national and the other, according to Al Arabiya, was a person "of Arab nationality responsible for arming Hamas."
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti said, "This is absolutely an Israeli attack," adding that Sudan had evidence that Israel had launched the strike.
An eyewitness told Reuters that security people were preventing journalists and other people from entering the site of the explosion. He said he could see a car going up in flames.
The Sudanese Media Center said the state's aerial defense forces fired at the attacking aircraft, which was described as "foreign," and drove it out of Sudan's air space.
A senior Sudanese official said later that eyewitnesses saw the aircraft follow the vehicle and then bomb it. He added that a similar attack had been made in that area before. The official denied reports that these attacks were meant to prevent arms trafficking and called on the international community to investigate who is behind the bombings.
The conduct of the Sudanese authorities and their decision to keep the media away from the attack site may indicate that Khartoum has much to hide in the affair. Perhaps, despite its denials, the Sudanese regime knows about the reported arms smuggling taking place within its borders.
Israeli defense officials have accused Sudan of enabling Iran to smuggle arms through its territory in convoys, via Egypt, to the Gaza Strip.
Sudanese officials describe the attack as being targeted against a specific person. But sending an aerial force to such a remote destination to kill one lone militant appears to be unusual.
Israel has not confirmed or denied foreign media reports saying the Israel Air Force has carried out strikes in Sudan at least twice before, in January and February 2009, shortly after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza ended.
In one incident, a truck convoy leading arms to Gaza was bombed and 119 people were killed. In the other incident, a ship was bombed from the air.
At the time, reports surfaced about Israeli naval commando activity in Sudan's ports against arms smuggling.
Sudan, whose relations with the West are tense, is interested in downplaying the incident, especially if another arms convoy has been hit.
Israel's covert war with Iran
For the past three years, Israel and Iran have been conducting a covert war over arms trafficking. Iran sends a huge amount of weapons and material to Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad through various routes. Israel has meanwhile acted in various regions to foil the smuggling, according to foreign media reports.
In January 2010, senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, head of the Islamist organization's arms trafficking apparatus, was murdered in a Dubai hotel. Dubai police accused the Mossad of the assassination and published photos and passports of the alleged perpetrators, with Dubai claiming were traveling under fake identities.
Over the past two months, reports related to the arms-trafficking war have been on the rise. In February, Palestinian engineer Dirar Abu Sisi disappeared in Ukraine, with his family claiming that Israeli agents had abducted him from a nighttime train. A large part of the Hamas weapons industry relies on the help of Iranian experts. The circumstances under which Abu Sisi was brought to Israel are prohibited from publication under a gag order.
On March 16, Israel's naval commando intercepted the ship Victoria en route from Turkey to Egypt, where large amounts of weapons were found on board. The IDF believes the weapons, intended for Gaza, had been flown from Iran to Damascus, where they were loaded onto the ship. This appears to be an alternative Iranian route, replacing the old sea route from the Persian Gulf to Egypt and from there to Gaza via Sinai.
Despite the smuggling failures, considerable quantities of Iranian weapons are assumed to have still reached both Hezbollah - the Syrian border with Lebanon is completely open and unsupervised - and Hamas.