Israel Can Only Make Real Peace With a Democratic Sudan, Not With Coup Leaders in Khartoum

Israel assumes it can recycle the same normalization strategy – secret meetings with generals, arms procurers and security services – that succeeded with the Gulf and North Africa. But it won't work for Sudan

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Sudanese anti-coup, pro-democracy protesters carry the portrait of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, ousted by the military, in the capital Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman this weekend
Sudanese anti-coup, pro-democracy protesters carry the portrait of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, ousted by the military, in the capital Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman this weekendCredit: - - AFP
Mohy Omer
Mohy Omer

Now that Sudan’s military generals have taken control of the country after ousting the civilian-led government, should Israel still continue to legitimize the military and its anti-democratic coup?

According to foreign reports, on October 8, just three weeks before the coup, a Sudanese security delegation made a secret trip to Tel Aviv. According to those reports, the delegation was led by the Rapid Support Forces Second Commander Lt-Gen Abdel Rahim Hamdan Dagalo, and included Lt-Gen Mirghani Idris Suleiman, from the Military Industry Corporation of Sudan. A year ago, Dagalo reportedly met with then-Mossad head Yossi Cohen in a get-together mediated by the UAE. 

In February 2020, the head of Sudan’s military, President of the Sovereign Council and now coup leader, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, met secretly with the then-Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in Entebbe, Uganda, a meeting the previous civilian Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, knew nothing about.

Sudanese officials, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, have confirmed that the Israeli government is directly engaging with the military component of Sudan’s transitional government and sidelining the civilian component. 

Israel’s current approach to engagement in Sudan is problematic for Sudan, and ultimately it will be for Israel as well.

Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan at the General Command of the Armed Forces in Khartoum last week.Credit: Marwan Ali / AP

Israel’s exclusive engagement with Sudan’s military legitimizes the military’s quest to remain in power and weakens the civilian component of the government, which is now in danger of being subjugated even further, reversing what had been a process of democratic transition. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, General Mohamed Dagalo (known as Hemeti), have made their intentions to remain in power clear in recent public speeches.

Burhan had pressured the prime minister to dissolve the civilian government but he refused. If that were to happen, the military will play a decisive role in handpicking the new government. Choosing individuals that are loyal to the military will only strengthen its ability to remain in power.

Israel’s strategy of building strong alliances with the military and security agencies may have worked in some North African and Middle Eastern countries. However, this approach is highly unlikely to work in Sudan.

Sudan’s political evolution is very different from that of Egypt, the UAE or Saudi Arabia. Sudan is the only country in the region that has had three peaceful revolutions that toppled military dictatorships.

The current revolution continues with great public support for democratic transition in Sudan. Despite its shortcomings, the government of Prime Minister Hamdok enjoys widespread popularity. The public, especially the youth, remain highly engaged in the political process and are determined to see the democratic transition through.

Tweet from pro-democracy protest in Khartoum: 'Free revolutionaries, we will complete the journey'

Israel’s interests are best served when there is freedom, peace, and justice in Sudan. Israel has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with the international community and particularly the U.S. to support the Sudanese people to achieve a genuine transition to democracy.

This requires working with, and supporting, Sudan’s civilian government and grassroots civil society organizations. Engaging with these stakeholders could enable people-to-people relationship building between the two countries. This would be a foundation upon which Israel and Sudan could build genuinely lasting diplomatic relations, not agreements made with a military elite sustained by brute force and subject to popular resistance.

Important areas of collaboration between Sudan and Israel include fighting terrorism and investing in promising economic collaborations in sectors such as renewable energy and agriculture. Israel can play a positive role in aiding legitimate Sudanese security forces to root out terrorism, a significant problem in the country.

While Israel and Sudan have not historically been allies, as a young Sudanese American, I can attest to the fact that many young Sudanese see no problem with engaging with Israel on issues of mutual interests. Many Sudanese support the Palestinian people’s quest for statehood, but they equally understand that those two issues are not mutually exclusive.

Many important opportunities exist between the two countries, more importantly between the two peoples, but they can and will only be fully realized in a democratic Sudan.

Mohy Omer is a policy analysis focusing on U.S. foreign policy towards Sudan and other East African countries. He has worked for U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the National Democratic Institute. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own. Twitter: @MohyOmer2

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