Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Trump on the phone with the leaders of Sudan and Israel. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty

While the U.S. officially brokered the Israel-Sudan normalization deal, it was Israel that facilitated talks between the U.S. and Sudan on the broader deal that included Sudan’s removal from America’s state sponsors of terrorism list.

Why it matters: Israel’s secret contacts with Sudanese officials paved the way for a deal that was nearly a year in the making.

  • This story is based on the accounts of four U.S. and Israeli officials who were involved in the process but declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the talks.

Flashback: In early 2019, Sudan’s then-dictator Omar al-Bashir reached out to Israel amid a desperate attempt to hold onto power.

  • Bashir spoke several times with an Israeli intelligence officer-turned-diplomat nicknamed “Maoz,” who previously spent many years handling the Shin Bet intelligence agency’s assets inside Hamas in Gaza.
  • Maoz had a new role inside Netanyahu’s office: developing relationships with countries in Africa and the Arab world that didn’t have diplomatic ties with Israel.
  • Israel was willing to listen to Bashir but not to provide him assistance, Israeli officials say.

Last January, several months after Bashir was toppled, Netanyahu proposed a meeting with the head of Sudan’s transitional government, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to discuss normalization.

  • Nick Kaufman, a British-Israeli lawyer who was advising the new Sudanese government on Bashir’s potential extradition to the International Criminal Court, touched down in Khartoum bearing the letter from Netanyahu. He returned with a positive reply from Burhan.
  • Najwa Gadaheldam, a close adviser to Burhan who had also advised Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, worked with Maoz to secretly arrange a meeting in Uganda under Moseveni’s auspices.
  • The meeting on Feb. 3 constituted a historic breakthrough in Israeli-Sudanese relations. Burhan was prepared to immediately proceed with normalization, but Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok — who had been left in the dark about the meeting — vehemently objected, Israeli officials say.

The Israeli elections and the COVID-19 pandemic put the Sudan-Israel track on the back burner, though Maoz continued to speak each week with Burhan or his aides.

  • Sudan allowed Israeli planes to use Sudanese airspace for the first time in March as they evacuated Israelis from South Africa and Latin America.
  • The Israelis later sent a medical team to Sudan in May when Gadaheldam became ill with COVID-19. She was too ill to be evacuated to Israel and died a few days after the doctors arrived.

Behind the scenes: When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israel in April, Netanyahu lobbied him to view Sudan as an opportunity and open a direct channel of communication with Burhan. Their first call was facilitated by the Israelis and came days after that visit.

  • Progress between the U.S. and Sudan moved slowly for several months.
  • Then, when the UAE agreed to normalize relations with Israel, the U.S. began to look for more countries to follow suit.
Pompeo (L) meets with Hamdok in Khartmoum. Photo: Handout via Getty Images

The Israelis proposed that the Trump administration merge its dialogue with Sudan with the Israel-Sudan talks on normalization. The UAE made a similar proposal.

  • Sudan was high on the agenda when Pompeo visited Israel in late August, and the Israelis facilitated a direct flight for him from Tel Aviv to Sudan.
  • Pompeo's advisers were briefed by Netanyahu's aides, who even offered advice on how to handle the talks.
  • Burhan was anxious to seal a deal involving both the terror list and normalization, but he needed Hamdok to agree.

When Pompeo met Hamdok, he proposed a deal: Sudan would be removed from the terror list, receive a U.S aid package and normalize relations with Israel.

  • Pompeo told Hamdok that Trump was ready to make the deal right away. He even proposed a call with Trump and Netanyahu to seal the deal, but Hamdok demurred.
  • Over the next few weeks, Israeli officials including Ambassador Ron Dermer continued to lobby the Trump administration to make the deal, with Netanyahu suggesting the U.S. provide more incentives to Sudan.
  • On the U.S. side, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and his senior adviser Aryeh Lightstone also pressed for a deal

By Sept. 21, it seemed a deal was imminent. The Emiratis and Israelis organized a meeting in Abu Dhabi between a senior Sudanese delegation and a White House team led by Gen. Miguel Correa, the National Security Council director for Africa and the Gulf.

  • But after two days of negotiations, the talks exploded.
  • One reason was the big gap between the aid package the Sudanese expected and the one the U.S. was offering.
  • Another was a cultural clash and language barriers caused messages from the sides to get lost in translation. The negotiators butted heads and the talks broke down.
  • The Israelis and Emiratis worked to ease tensions and bring the sides closer together — warning the Sudanese that they'd never get such a good offer after the U.S. election, while pressing the Americans to sweeten the deal.
  • After a short lull, the talks resumed. Correa and White House envoy Avi Berkowitz spoke to the Sudanese ambassador in Washington, Pompeo continued to speak with Hamdok, and the Israelis and Emiratis continued lobbying both sides.

At what would prove to be a decisive meeting on Oct. 21 in Khartoum, talks nearly broke down again over the sequencing of the elements of the deal.

  • The U.S. wanted Sudan to announce a normalization agreement with Israel first, or at least in tandem with the announcement on the terror list.
  • They eventually gave in to the Sudanese insistence that the terror designation be lifted first.

Two days later, with Netanyahu and Sudanese leaders on the phone and the TV cameras rolling, Trump announced the deal.

Go deeper: Sudan's government fears collapse as it strikes a deal with Trump

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - World

Biden turns the page on Trump's Israel-Palestine policies

Biden with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2010. Photo: David Furst/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration laid out its Israel-Palestine policy at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, highlighting the importance of repairing ties with the Palestinian Authority.

Driving the news: According to the new policies, the U.S. will resume aid to the Palestinians and reopen the PLO office in Washington and the consulate in Jerusalem.

Jan 29, 2021 - World

Biden picks Rob Malley as envoy for Iran

Malley (L) during Iran deal negotiations in Vienna, 2015. Photo: Siamek Ebrahimi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Image

Rob Malley will serve as the Biden administration's special envoy for Iran, working out of the State Department, White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced on Friday.

Why it matters: Malley, a former Middle East adviser to Barack Obama, took part in the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal and is a strong supporter of a U.S. return to the agreement. Reports of his likely selection led to sharp criticism from opponents of the deal like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), while former colleagues from the Obama administration rallied to Malley's defense.

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."