In Wake of Haaretz Report, Lawmakers Demand Debate on Israeli Efforts to Bolster Bashir's Sudan

Israel's efforts on behalf of Sudan, whose president is wanted for genocide, had been neither discussed nor approved by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, both coalition and opposition MKs say.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir during a rally against the International Criminal Court at Khartoum Airport, July 30, 2016.
Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah, Reuters

Four Knesset members from both the ruling coalition and the opposition on Wednesday demanded an urgent discussion in the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, following Haaretz’s report that Israel is urging the United States and Europe to improve relations with Sudan and bolster its regime.

The four – MKs Michal Rosin and Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) and Yehuda Glick (Likud) – wrote to committee chairman MK Avi Dichter (Likud) that to the best of their knowledge the relations between Israel and Sudan and Israel’s activity in the West on behalf of the Sudanese regime had been neither discussed nor approved by the committee.

“In recent months Israel has been acting covertly and overtly in Africa to renew and bolster diplomatic ties,” they wrote in a letter initiated by Rosin. They noted that an international warrant has been issued for the arrest of Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and that he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the genocide of hundreds of thousands of non-Arab tribespeople in the Darfur province.

Michal Fattal

They wrote that weapons convoys had made their way to Gaza via Sudan and a rocket factory was detected there.

Israel is assisting Sudan, as Haaretz reported, despite the absence of formal diplomatic relations between the two states and despite the fact that the American administration classified Sudan more than 20 years ago as a state that assists and sponsors terror organizations, they wrote. They further noted that the United States imposes harsh economic sanctions on Sudan, due to the serious human rights violations there.

Israel’s international ties with other states are of the utmost importance, they wrote. “An attempt to advance a state whose leader has been charged with crimes against humanity, with the help of our allies, raises questions about Israel’s commitment to preserve human and civil rights and regarding its interests. At this time, especially after these relations have been exposed, we’re dealing with a diplomatic and defense-related matter whose repercussions ...for Israel must be discussed by the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.”

Speaker Yuli Edelstein, right, looks on as MK Yehudah Glick speaks during the Knesset session in which the MK was sworn in, May 25, 2016.
Menahem Kahana, AFP

Haaretz reported Wednesday that Israel has contacted the U.S. government and other Western countries and urged them to take steps to improve relations with Sudan in the wake of the break in relations between the Arab-African country and Iran in the past year.

Senior officials in Jerusalem raised the issue last week during a visit of Thomas Shannon, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, Haaretz reported.

Citing Israeli officials, the report said one of the messages conveyed to Shannon by Foreign Ministry officials was the need to improve relations between the U.S. and Sudan. The Foreign Ministry believes Sudan cut its ties with Iran about a year ago, that arms smuggling from Sudan to the Gaza Strip has been halted and that Khartoum has moved closer to the axis of Sunni Muslim states led by Saudi Arabia.

Israeli officials said another message relayed to Shannon was that the positive steps taken by Sudan must not be ignored, and that American gestures toward Khartoum could be helpful. One thing Sudan has been seeking in the past year is for Washington to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Foreign Ministry officials told the Americans they understand that the U.S. will not lift its sanctions on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, but that increasing the American dialogue with others in the Sudanese government would be a positive move.

In addition to talking to the American administration about Sudan, in the past year Israel has held similar talks with France, Italy and other European countries. One Jerusalem official said Israeli diplomats asked their contacts in Europe to assist Sudan in dealing with its vast external debt, which stands at close to 50 billion dollars, and to consider erasing some of it, as has been done with other countries that have fallen into severe economic crisis. Israel warned that an economic collapse in Sudan could further undermine stability in this part of Africa and end up strengthening terrorist elements there.