Netanyahu and Hamdok Reach Tense Camaraderie between Israel and Sudan

  • +Diplomatic normalization deal brokered by the United States has brought Sudan and Israel into camaraderie.
  • +Sudan needs to rebuild its economy; Israel wants further regional trade.
  • +Israel is giving technology and aid to Sudan and the United States is winning. 
The Times of Israel

Why is Sudan in camaraderie with Israel?

Answer: Diplomatic normalization deal brokered by the United States.

Israel and Sudan reached a historic agreement to normalize diplomatic relations on October 23rd. A camaraderie long-time coming was brokered by the United States, who had held Sudan in chokehold since the 1990s following accusations of them harbouring terrorists from al Qaeda and Hezbollah and designating them as a terrorist sponsor state. This peace means a shift in power in the Middle East and northern Africa as well as adds to the list a growing number of states willing to recognize Israel as sovereign. 

The terms of the agreement also formalize economic and trade relations between Israel and Sudan, affording Israel a regional trading partner and Sudan a lifeline in a devastated economy. According to the Wall Street Journal, quiet negotiations began back in February between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and transitional government council leader General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, with the U.S. as a mediator (with vested interest, to say the least). Peace was finalized last Friday during a conference call hosted by President Donald Trump, between Netanyahu and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok. 

Although a catalyst towards a growing economy and access to funds for Sudan, and a growth in trade and international status for Israel, the deal has been met with fierce regional backlash. Sudan has been historically anti-Israel, even hosting the 1967 Arab League summit that designated “The Three No’s”: no peace, no negotiations, nor recognition of Israel. Since then, however, Burhan claims that the state of Arab nations and their relations with Israel have changed drastically; Sudan cannot be tied any longer to the obligations and consequences of blacklisting Israel. Especially not when several other, more powerful, states have since normalized diplomatic ties with Israel.  

What does Sudan want?

Answer: Sudan needs to rebuild its economy and re-enter the international system. 

Sudan just went through a devastating civil war and is now in the middle of a transitional government that must decide how to rebuild the foundations of the country. The previous government had been essentially blockaded from most forms of international loans by their status as a terrorist sponsor state. 

Prime Minister Hamdok is now charged with revitalizing Sudan after years of conflict, as well as undoing the damage of the previous government. He needs this normalization in order to garner support from western countries that he is not finding in his own region. Burhan also claims that reconciliation is in the best interest of the nation in order to be reintegrated into the international economic political system. 

They are not wrong, but reconciliation is not the word to use to describe the events that transpired last week. In addition, there is a need to look at the terms of recognition of Israel—which the United States brokered as a prerequisite for undoing their status as an international pariah. In reference, Sudan is now required to compensate $335 million to Americans who lived through terrorist attacks—in other countries, nonetheless—while Sudan was harboring al Qaeda members. Here Trump will only remove Sudan from the terrorist sponsor state list until Sudan deposits the $335 million into the United States’ bank accounts. International political strongarming, you never get old!

Naturally, the terms of this agreement attracted criticism from other Arab and African countries. Hamdok is accused of ‘selling out’ the country, and critics call the peace deal ‘blackmail’. Palestinian leaders condemn this normalization, saying that such diplomatic relations can prove harmul to Palestine and its people. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called out Sudan for supporting a state that currently occupies Palestinian land. 

Furthermore, Iran has called the deal ‘phoney’ and condemned mediation by the U.S. — although Iran may just be worried about power shifting away from western Asia and into northern Africa with the United States’ hand on the balance. After all, Iran and Sudan broke diplomatic ties back in 2016.

All is not lost, however. Hamdok is left defending a diplomatic relationship that is highly unpopular in the Arab-Muslim country. To appease “Islamists and hard-liners allied with the former president”, the new government secured “millions of dollars in financial assistance” from the U.S. Not only this, but as mentioned before, Sudan now has access to loans from the World Bank and other institutions from which they had been blacklisted in addition to the debt that the United States has agreed to subsidize for Sudan. Moreover, the U.S., Israel, and the United Arab Emirates will be sending $50 million worth of wheat to Sudan as humanitarian aid, as well as agricultural technology that Israel agreed to share with them in order to combat famine and drought in the country.  

Religion plays a big role in this situation. After all, this Arab-Muslim country chose to normalize relations with the Jewish state, in a lot of ways forgoing their obligation to the majority Muslim Palestinian state whose very existence is threatened by the camaraderie between Sudan and Israel. But at the end of the day, most of these factors prove to be political and economic; there is not much Sudan could have changed in this succession of events. The deal was—in explicit terms of self-interest—the correct move to make. Sudan will likely benefit in one way or another from increased trade, technology, knowledge, and debt subsidies. 

What does Israel want?

Answer: Israel wants further regional trade and recognition

Netanyahu wants what they have always wanted. Israel is in need of normalizing relations wherever they can. This, both to diminish the threat of their enemies, as well as to tacitly garner support (or lack of condemnation) for their practices in Palestine. The continued support of the United States, and its growth under the Trump administration, is good news all around for Israel. Growing influence in north Africa gives Israel access to a plethora of goods, imports, water, and technology. 

This newly brokered camaraderie increases Israel’s security in the Middle East, and affords it a new trading partner to whom they can export goods. Israel also benefits from the growing number of states who have normalized relations with them and their own arms deals with the United States. It is in Israel’s best interest to counteract the pressure it faces from Iran in the Middle East, and its relations with Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, and now Sudan all serve to form a security bloc in Israel’s favor. They may furthermore gather support in international institutions—namely UN bodies—from bigger states like those mentioned through investment in foreign technologies, agriculture, and more. 

Netanyahu definitely benefits from three new diplomatic relations in a matter of weeks. These events may reinvigorate trust in his leadership following corruption scandals and plummeting popularity. How effective his foreign policy will be in regaining his power, we will have to see. The prime minister has been embroiled in corruption scandals and calls for resignation for the past year—may be increased diplomatic normalization will be his saving grace? (spoiler: probably not)

What is Israel doing?

Answer: Israel is giving aid and technology to Sudan.

The more specific terms of the new agreement between Israel and Sudan are yet to be fully worked out. But it is expected that they will cooperate in terms of “agriculture, technology, aviation, [and] migration”, out of which Israel will be conceding the most. Israel is expected to provide Sudan with agricultural and medical technologies in order that they can rebuild effectively following their civil conflict. 

Moreover, they will provide the aforementioned humanitarian aid in the form of wheat alongside the U.S. and the UAE.

Who is winning and what about you?

Answer: The United States. 

The United States’ and particularly the Republican Party’s vested interest in the Middle East and now Africa show that President Donald Trump is vying for a hegemony that is frankly no longer possible and will be difficult to materialize. Nonetheless, this fact does not diminish the United States’ status as a large and key player in the Middle East. Trump is likely seeking to grow the U.S.’s influence in the Middle East and north Africa to offset the increasing Chinese investment in east African countries. Now that China has several, very expensive stakes in countries like Kenya and Ethiopia – their power is only projected to grow in the international sphere.

The strategy of the United States here serves not only to draw balance away from Iran in the Middle East, but to edge its way into Africa and begin edging into China’s influence in the continent. The United States remains, first and foremost, the most powerful country on earth – even when that power is shifting. This power remains much to the frustration of European leaders who like to pretend that as our neoliberal system grows and solidifies, the mechanisms of power relations are muted. The U.S. still holds more influence than Europe likes to admit to itself. 

Keep an eye out, reader, Sudan is not the first and will not be the last place that the United States will take advantage of to establish dominance and expand its influence (see: new embassy in the Maldives, mediation between Ethiopia and Egypt). Trump already normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates as well as Bahrain, adding to the short list of Arab countries that recognize Israel’s sovereignty in less than two months. And the Abraham Accords are only expected to grow.

The Israel-Sudan normalization does not only show the growing diplomatic influence of the United States in Africa; we observe, in real time, the bubbling importance of Africa itself. The ability to control, manipulate, or influence diplomatic, economic, and military happenings in Africa is becoming more and more lucrative as the two biggest economies in the world vie for a seat in the continent.

All in all, this ground-breaking new diplomacy between Sudan and Israel leaves one clear winner, the player whose foreign policy handiwork never fails to impress: the United States.

Francia Morales

Research and Analysis Intern