Top Sudanese Minister Expresses Support for Normalizing Relations With Israel

'Even Hamas is talking to Israel,' says minister of investment in television interview. Israeli law does not define Sudan as an enemy country, but there has been long-standing hostility between the two countries for many years

Mubarak al Fadil al Mahdi

Sudan's minister of investment, Mubarak al Fadil al Mahdi expressed support for the establishment of ties between his country and Israel and for normalization of bilateral relations. His statement is unusual for a senior minister in the Sudanese government, which does not recognize Israel and has no diplomatic ties with it.

In an interview with Sudania 24 TV Sunday night, Fadil said he sees no impediment to normalizing ties with Israel, adding that it might help Sudan’s interests. “There is no problem normalizing relations with Israel the Palestinians normalized relations with Israel even Hamas is talking to Israel. The Palestinians receive tax money from Israel and electricity from Israel. The Palestinians sit with Israel and talk to Israel. They have disputes but they sit with them,” he said.

Israeli law does not define Sudan as an enemy country, but there has been long-standing hostility between the two countries for many years. Israel is the only country that citizens of Sudan are prohibited from entering by law. For many years, Sudan hosted the commander of Hamas and was a military and political ally of Iran and Hezbollah.

Fadil, who heads the National Umma Party, was appointed to his office in May as part of Prime Minister Hassan Salah's reshuffling of positions in Sudan’s national unity government. He told the Sudania interviewer that many Arab countries have some form of relations with Israel. “The issue has changed,” he said.

In early 2016, spirited public debate began in Sudan over the possibility of normalizing relations with Israel. A good deal of the discussion took place as part of the Sudanese National Dialogue Conference, a framework that includes all political parties and factions in the country, including the Sudanese army, and whose goal is to end internal strife in Sudan.

As part of the conference’s discussions of Sudan’s foreign relations last January, some of the country’s political leaders came out in favor of changing its attitude toward Israel and normalizing ties in an attempt to move closer to the United States and get the economic sanctions against Sudan lifted. However, the Sudania interview was the first time such a clear statement in support of normalization with Israel has come from a senior minister.

Fadil told the interviewer that the Palestinians bear a significant measure of responsibility for what happened to them. “They sold their land [to Israelis],” he said. Fadil added that the Arab countries also made many mistakes regarding the Palestinian issue, such as by opposing the partition plan of British Mandatory Palestine in 1947. “The Arab countries trafficked in the Palestinian issue for domestic purposes The Palestinian issue has held back the Arab world and Arab regimes are taking advantage of it to oppress their own peoples in the name of the struggle for Palestine,” he said.

Fadil also said that the Palestinians had gained nothing from Arab countries' lack of relations with Israel. He praised Israeli technology and its democracy: “One can agree with the Israelis or disagree with them, but they have a democratic regime,” he said. “They prosecute their leaders and send them to prison and they have transparency.”

For years Iran used Sudan as a base for smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip, and even established a massive factory near Khartoum to manufacture long-range rockets for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. A series of aerial attacks was carried out in Sudan between 2008 and 2014, targeting weapons convoys on their way to the Gaza Strip, an Iranian weapons ship anchored in Port Sudan and the rocket factory near the capital. The Sudanese government attributed all the attacks to Israel, but Jerusalem never claimed responsibility for them.

In late 2014 Sudan began to cool its ties with Iran due to heavy pressure from Saudi Arabia. The Iranian cultural attaché, who worked out of the Iranian Embassy in Khartoum, was sent back to Iran and a number of Iranian cultural centers were shut down in the country. Sudan subsequently joined the coalition established by Saudi Arabia to fight the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

After an attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran in January 2016, Sudan cut its diplomatic ties with Iran entirely.

In September of last year Haaretz reported that as Sudan distanced itself from Iran, Israel began encouraging the United States and some European Union countries to improve their ties with it and extend special economic gestures. Senior officials said at the time that Israel's message was that the positive steps Sudan had taken should be rewarded. One move Israel suggested to European countries was to assist Sudan in dealing with its crippling external debt, which is close to $50 billion, and to consider erasing some of it.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has controlled the country since the military coup he staged in 1989, is one of the world’s most notorious dictators. In 2009 an international arrest warrant was issued against him by the International Criminal Court in The Hague after he was accused of crimes against humanity in the war in Darfur in western Sudan, where Sudanese forces murdered hundreds of thousands of people. The court in The Hague said that Bashir, the first sitting leader of a country against whom such a warrant was issued, is suspected of giving orders to intentionally attack civilians in Darfur as well as for pillaging, forcibly uprooting a large number civilians in the region and raping, torturing and murdering them.