Oct 23, 2020 - World

Israel and Sudan begin normalization process after call with Trump

Trump announces the news in the Oval Office. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

Sudan and Israel announced today that they will “end the state of belligerence” between them and start the process of normalizing ties.

Driving the news: The announcement came after a phone call hosted by President Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and the head of Sudan's governing council, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Why it matters: Unlike with Israel's recent deals with the UAE and Bahrain, there was a state of belligerency between Israel and Sudan for years.

  • Sudan is not designated in Israeli law as an enemy state, but for decades there has been deep animosity and a history of military incidents between the countries, which don't have diplomatic relations.
  • Under Sudanese law, Sudanese nationals are not allowed to travel to Israel and could face heavy penalties for doing so.

The backdrop: Sudan hosted a Hamas headquarters in Khartoum for years and maintained a military and political alliance with Israel's enemies Iran and Hezbollah. The Iranians used Sudan as a base for arms smuggling to the Gaza Strip, and established a massive factory for long-range rockets there.

  • Between 2008 and 2014, a series of airstrikes took place against Gaza-bound weapons convoys in Sudan, an Iranian weapons ship docked in Port Sudan and the Iranian missile factory in Khartoum. The Sudanese government blamed Israel, which never took responsibility for the strikes.
  • Since 2014, Sudan's relations with Iran cooled dramatically as it started getting closer to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It also engaged in quiet talks with Israel, which led Israel to lobby the U.S. and European countries to provide Sudan with economic aid.

After Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir was toppled in a revolution last year, the talks with Israel became more substantive as part of an effort by the country's transitional government to warm relations with the Trump administration.

  • Last February, al-Burhan even met with Netanyahu in Uganda.

The latest: Trump today signed an order to remove Sudan from the State Department’s state sponsors of terrorism list as part of a broader deal that also includes U.S. aid to Sudan and steps from Sudan towards normalization with Israel.

Between the lines: The joint statement published by the White House also said that Netanyahu and Sudanese leaders agreed to begin economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture. They also agreed that delegations will meet in the coming weeks to negotiate agreements of cooperation in the fields of trade, agriculture technology, aviation and migration.

  • This last point is important because there are close to 20,000 Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel. Until today, Israel wasn’t able to return them to Sudan legally because of the state of belligerence between the countries — and the fear they would be sent to jail or be executed for breaking the Sudanese law banning visits to Israel.

The big picture: The breakthrough follows normalization deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain.

What to watch: The deal could help Sudan's transitional government avoid collapse, but also carries the risks of street protests against warmer relations with Israel, Wasil Ali reports from Khartoum. Go deeper.

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