Arab governments are competing to find the strongest terms with which to condemn Israel's alleged bombing of a Sudanese weapons factory this week. Yet, no one in the Middle East should have been surprised. So long as the Khartoum regime works hand-in-hand with Iran in supporting groups like Hamas, Israel will regard Sudan as a legitimate target.
Although Tel Aviv will not admit it, this is their third attack on Sudanese soil in as many years. In 2009 they destroyed a convoy taking weapons to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and in 2010 they killed an arms smuggler who was also thought to have been supplying Hamas.
Israel's target on the night of October 23rd, the Yarmouk Compound, run by the Military Industry Corporation, was among Africa's largest arms makers. In May 2010 the Sudanese newspaper Ray Al-Sha'b reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps was operating a secret weapons factory in Sudan to supply weapons to terrorist groups across Africa and the Middle East. It also suggested Iran was cooperating with Sudan to produce nuclear weapons. The Khartoum regime closed the paper immediately and arrested the deputy-editor.
This week, following the Yarmouk explosion, Sudanese opposition figures confirmed the story: the Yarmouk Compound was being used to aid Iran's geopolitical objectives in the Holy Land (6). For this reason Israel's vice premier, Moshe Yaalon, described Sudan as a central player in Iran's efforts to get weapons to Hamas.
The Sudanese regime has a distinguished pedigree supporting international terrorism. In the 1990s it gave sanctuary to so many outlaws, the capital, Khartoum, was known as "the Holiday Inn for Terrorists." Al Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Carlos the Jackal all called Khartoum home. It was Khartoum's five years playing gracious host to Osama bin Laden that earned it U.S. sanctions in 1997.
Khartoum's National Islamic Front regime (rebranded as the National Congress Party) has a long and deep friendship with Iran. Over the years they have signed several military cooperation agreements, including deals sharing weapons technology and training. Sudanese opposition figures suggest Tehran regards Sudan as its back up weapons manufacturer in the event that Israel attacks Iran (which it expects at any moment). In effect, they say, an invisible war between Iran and Israel is being fought on Sudanese soil.
Sudan and Iran has been a marriage made in jihadist's heaven. They share an Islamist world view, a fundamentalist ideology, and a commitment to support groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. In August this year the happy couple renewed their vows at the Non-Aligned Conference in Tehran.
For years the UK-based "Africa Confidential" has warned of the military and diplomatic implications of this partnership. Gill Lusk of Africa Confidential says the Yarmouk attack is a wake-up call for the international community:
"Khartoum's Islamist regime has long had a close working relationship with Iran, especially on defence matters. Israel has several times deployed air strikes against weapons convoys in Sudan which were bound for Hamas in Gaza. This was confirmed by local Sudanese sources. However, this is the first time that a strike assumed to be by Israel has been directly linked to Iranian involvement. It therefore suggests that other governments may now once again take the Sudanese regime more seriously as a promoter of terrorism, as they did when it was implicated on the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993."
Moreover, Sudan is a terrorist state in its own right. The same Arab nations condemning Israel this week have been mute in the face of Khartoum's ruthless suppression of its own Muslim citizens in Darfur since 2003, and thirty years of ethnically cleansing those within its own borders it considers insufficiently enthusiastic about its version of Islamism.
Sudan's defenders predictably blame "Zionist," "imperialist" or "colonialist" international conspiracies for spreading anti-Khartoum propaganda about Sudan's decades of support for the terrorist Lord's Resistance Army.
Most pitiful, though, the U.S. and other Western governments overlook Khartoum's dubious connections and the massive human rights abuses within its own borders. They naively take the Sudanese regime's word that it is, after 9/11, "on their side" in the war on terror. The U.S. government claims to have been given intelligence by Khartoum, although human rights groups point out Sudan has most likely providing interrogation for 'rendered' individuals and bases for stationing drones. The West also appeases Khartoum in the hope that it will behave better toward its own citizens and its neighbors, a foolish assumption.
In an Orwellian twist, Sudan's Foreign Affairs Minister, Ali Karti, will attend a conference on demobilisation and demilitarising Sudan in London in November. During the exchange of clichés about peace-building, will anyone dare to question the regime's commitment to peace, given its ongoing bombing of its own citizens in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains? Numerous regime worthies, including the president, have earned indictments by the International Criminal Court. Why do we welcome their representatives to our diplomatic bean feasts? Apparently the Israelis are less willing to allow Sudan to make them look like fools.