Sudan's military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said on Saturday that a series of meetings between Sudanese and Israeli officials were part of security and intelligence cooperation, and not political in nature.
In an interview with Sudanese state TV, Burhan also said "there is no secrecy" in his regime's ties with Israel, saying "the Israelis are not enemies."
All visits by Sudanese officials to Israel "carried out by intelligence and security agencies… enabled us to foil terrorist cells in Sudan," Burhan said, stressing no senior political officials were part of any delegation to Israel.
He called visits "legitimate" and said the security cooperation "serves the interests of the country," and helps keeping Sudan and the region safe.
In early 2020 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Burhan agreed to start normalizing ties between Israel and Sudan, as part of the U.S.-brokered push that included agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, but the agreement with Khartoum was never formally realized.
Burhan led a military coup on October 25 that ended a partnership between the army and civilian parties which was meant to lead to democratic elections, sparking months of protests as well as Western condemnation.
U.S. officials have said they are looking into options to respond to the killing of at least 79 protesters, according to a toll by medics, and to moves to impede civilian-led government.
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In his first interview on state television since the coup, Burhan said Washington was receiving inaccurate information and that sanctions or the threat of sanctions were "of no use".
Burhan said he took personal responsibility for investigations of protester deaths and that five or six were ongoing. But he added that there were suspicions of involvement by "outside groups", without elaborating.
The armed forces were committed to handing over power to an elected government or to an arrangement decided through national consensus, he said, repeating a commitment to holding elections in mid-2023.
Last week, the newly appointed U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, included Israel in his current round of travel to governments promoting democratic civilian rule in Sudan.
Satterfield’s appointment and visit comes weeks after an Israeli delegation reportedly met with Burhan.
The Sudanese military seized power last year, upending the East African state’s fragile transition to democratic rule after President Omar al-Bashir’s three decades of autocratic rule was ended by his removal in April 2019.
The country’s prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, resigned last month, leaving the military in full control. However, the political stalemate has led to violent demonstrations leaving dozens of protesters dead.
Israel’s efforts to bolster diplomatic relations with Sudan have lagged behind the other countries with which it normalized ties in 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords.
A source close to Israeli-Sudanese talks previously told Haaretz that “the internal situation in the country has made it difficult for Sudan to promote ties with Israel the same way the other countries have,” referring to the UAE and Bahrain.