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Israel's foreign minister flies to Sudan ahead of signing Abraham Accords

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has returned from Sudan's capital Khartoum, ahead of signing the Abraham Accords with the country's military leaders.
Photo of Sudan military leader Abdul Fattah al-Burhan from his meeting today in Khartoum with Israeli FM Eli Cohen

Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen reportedly flew Thursday to Sudan's capital Khartoum on first such visit for an Israeli top diplomat, and ahead of signing the Abraham Accords with country's military leaders.

The minister met with Sudan's military leader Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Burhan and with other Sudanese leadership figures. This was the first public visit by an Israeli foreign minister to Sudan.

Over the years Sudan, a Muslim-majority country with a population of 48 million, has championed Palestinian positions, was close to Iran, sheltered Al-Qaeda and had been considered an enemy state of Israel. But when the Omar Bashir regime was toppled in a military coup 2019, the transition government in Khartoum showed signs of interest in rapprochement with Jerusalem. There were several unconfirmed reports of discrete mutual visits by security and diplomatic delegations.

In February 2020, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met secretly in Uganda with Sovereign Council Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. The day after the meeting, Netanyahu went public, announcing that the two countries had agreed to work together toward normalizing ties. In January 2021, Sudan signed the declarative section of the Abraham Accords with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, but did not sign a parallel document with Israel. A few days later, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen headed a business and security delegation and become the first Israeli cabinet minister to officially visit Sudan.

Sudan is a strategically important country to Israel. Located on the shores of the Red Sea, between Egypt and Eritrea, it controls Red Sea maritime routs. It also neighbors Ethiopia, one of Israel’s most important allies on the African continent. Over the years, there have been reports of strong military connections between Khartoum and Tehran, and in 1993 the United States labeled Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism. In the past few years, relations between Khartoum and Tehran degraded and rapprochement with Jerusalem became possible. In December 2020, ahead of the signing of the Abraham Accords, the United States removed the new Sudanese regime from its terror list.

Cohen's trip to Sudan was announced just hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chadian President Mahmad Deby inaugurated Chad’s new embassy in a suburb of Tel Aviv.

In both Sudan and Chad, Israel’s Mossad and other security agencies were apparently significantly involved in establishing the bilateral contacts that led to normalization. The new director of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Ronen Levy, had been a key person in the contacts with Sudan in his former position on the National Security Council. As part of Jerusalem’s discrete ties with Khartoum, Israel sent a doctor to Sudan in May 2020 to try to save the life of local diplomat Najwa Gadaheldam, who was infected with COVID-19.  

During his election campaign and after taking office, Netanyahu held that one of his main goals as premier would be enlarging the circle of the Abraham Accords beyond the Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. After Sudan, Israel and the United States are reportedly now working on Mauritania and Indonesia. Embarking for Paris Thursday afternoon, Netanyahu once again said he is working to widen the accords to include more countries.

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