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Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. Photo: Sarah Meysonnier/AFP via Getty

The Biden administration is urging the Israeli government to start engaging with Sudan's civilian leaders, rather than just the military, as part of the normalization process between the countries, Israeli officials tell me.

The backstory: Sudan is governed by a transitional civilian-military council, but the Israeli government has communicated almost exclusively with the military, starting with a summit 18 months ago between then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, the chairman of Sudan's governing council.

  • While Burhan pushed the normalization process forward, there were strong reservations on the civilian side, many of which remain to this day.
  • Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi, for example, opposed the abolishing of an Israel boycott law. Other top officials, such as Justice Minister Nasreldin Abdelbari, are more supportive of the normalization process.
  • Why it matters: The U.S. believes that increasing contacts between the Israeli government and the civilian faction of the Sudanese government could advance the normalization process.

Behind the scenes: In a recent meeting with the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Khartoum, Brian Shukan, senior Sudanese civilian officials said that Israel was engaging only with the military and intelligence services and asked the Biden administration to intervene, Israeli officials tell me.

  • State Department officials then conveyed that message to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and prime minister's office, and made clear that the State Department also believes Israel should work with Sudan through civilian channels.
  • “They didn’t ask us to stop working with the military but asked that we start working with the civilian government, too," an Israeli official said.
  • A State Department official declined to comment.

But there was a new source of tension last week after an Israel private jet affiliated with the Mossad spy agency landed in Khartoum.

  • Sources familiar with the flight tell me Mossad officials met with Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemetti.
  • Hemetti is Burhan’s deputy on the Sovereignty Council but has been trying to create an independent relationship with the Israelis in order to promote his own domestic political agenda in Sudan. He's also a highly controversial figure who has been accused of war crimes in Darfur.
  • Sudanese officials were upset about the optics of the Mossad visit, which could be seen as an Israeli attempt to undermine Burhan and the civilian government, a source familiar with the issue says.

What’s next: Sudan and Israel still haven’t signed a formal agreement on diplomatic relations. The agreement has been drafted, but the Sudanese want to have it endorsed by the Biden administration and signed in a ceremony in Washington.

Go deeper

Sep 13, 2021 - World

Leaders of Egypt and Israel hold rare public meeting

Bennett (L) with Sisi. Photo: Israeli govenrment press office

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli prime minister in 11 years to pay an official visit to an Egyptian president on Monday, meeting Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the coastal resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Why it matters: This was an effort by Sisi to establish good relations with the new Israeli government, and the Egyptians made every effort to give Bennett an unusually warm and public welcome.

Updated 2 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

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Hong Kong holds first "patriots only" elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a news conference last Monday. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua via Getty Images

Hong Kong's elections to choose the city's Election Committee members opened to a select group of voters on Sunday, under a new "patriots only" system imposed by China's government.

Why it matters: All candidates running to be members of the electoral college have been "vetted" by Beijing, per Reuters. They will go on to choose the Asian financial hub's next leader, approved by China's government, and some of its legislature.