The Sovereign Council and the cabinet of Sudan’s interim government gave its final approval to the annulment of the country’s Israel boycott law, which had prohibited the establishment of diplomatic ties with the Jewish state and forbid business relations between Israeli and Sudanese entities.
The annulment approved on Monday is another step on the path to normalization, which began with a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the head of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in February 2020.
The countries officially declared in October 2020 that they would normalize relations, and Sudan joined the Abraham Accords in January. In the ensuing months there has been continued communication between the countries that included visits to Sudan by Israeli delegations, but relations have not been normalized and a peace agreement has not been signed. Meanwhile, the annulment of the law is vital to the progression of relations between the countries.
Ambassador Haim Koren, Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt and the country’s first ambassador to South Sudan, who currently serves as a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzilya, says the annulment of the boycott has symbolic value.
“First of all, there’s a significance here beyond the boycott, an opening to a symbolic recognition of Israel,” he told The Media Line.
Sudan, which has a long history of supporting al-Qaida, was notable in its hostility to Israel. The Arab League convened in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum in 1967, where it reached the famous ‘Three Nos’ resolution: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.”
The peace process between Israel and the African country are part of the larger framework of the Abraham Accords. These accords, named after the shared patriarch of Arabs and Jews according to both Jewish and Islamic tradition, are normalization agreements mediated by the United States under then-President Donald Trump, between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, which were signed in September 2020. Sudan and Morocco joined months later. The historical agreement facilitated the first peace agreement between an Arab country and Israel since its 1994 peace treaty with Jordan.
While the benefits of normalization between two of the strongest economies in the Middle East, the UAE and Israel, seem obvious, what Sudan and the Jewish state stand to gain from their renewed ties may appear less clear.
Dr. Joshua Krasna, a Middle East expert at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center, and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Program on the Middle East, explained that, for Israel, international recognition has always been of vital importance, “even more so with Muslim countries, and even more so with members of the Arab League,” he told The Media Line. Sudan ticks both boxes. Any progress that Israel makes in this sphere improves its international standing, and this agreement is doubly important as it “breaks the Arab front that is opposed to the existence of Israel and to recognizing it.”
Krasna also adds that inner political considerations contributed to the agreement’s importance within Israel. March saw the country’s fourth election in two years and politicians seeking to improve their image gain political points from such advances. Although, he stresses, this does not belittle the importance of the diplomatic achievements secured recently for Israel.
Koren highlighted the geostrategic importance of the agreement for Israel.
“What we want more than anything is presence and a geostrategic bloc” of allies on the Red Sea, he said.
The Red Sea is a vital conduit of trade, connecting Europe and the Middle East to the Far East. Countries are racing to secure their presence in the area and – with Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan and, now, Sudan – Israel has a continuous stretch of allies which helps strengthen its presence in the region and protect its trade interests. Additionally, Koren explains that it is important for Western and Israeli security that Israel be able to better keep an eye on the activities of Islamist militias such as Boko Haram, while both parties strive to maintain stability in the region. An agreement with Sudan will enable that.
The recent normalization agreement with Sudan, in addition to the treaties with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, contributes to Israel’s international prestige, as a country courted by potential allies, Koren adds.
Khartoum is extremely interested in Israel’s advanced agricultural technology and its expertise in solar energy production, said Koren, who once represented Israel in the region. Sudan could be an agricultural powerhouse, and Israeli technologies could certainly help with that, he added.
The Sudanese also see Israel as a path to international acceptance and good relations with Washington. Sudan’s past relations with terror organizations has made it a pariah in the international arena, and the country was included on the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list. The international sanctions it faced, combined with the limit on aid it could receive, has brought Sudan’s economy to its knees. Economic aid and international relations that would help its economy are critically important to Khartoum, explains Koren, and peace with Israel is the way forward.
Krasna also emphasized the relationship with Washington as a main reason for Khartoum’s pursuit of normalization with Israel.
“They wanted to improve their relationship with the US … and the Americans’ condition was relations with Israel,” he said. Indeed, as part of the process, Sudan was removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list in December 2020 after 27 years.
While views on the agreement in Sudan are divided, despite its benefits, Koren believes that the Sudanese government is certainly interested in furthering the agreement, and is simply acting slowly and carefully, with political uncertainty affecting both the African country and its possible ally on the shores of the Mediterranean.