Israelis in Sudan said to be safe as West evacuates Khartoum

Khartoum has around 40 million people to feed and is in “desperate need” of Israeli agritech and assistance, says Dr. Yechiel Leiter of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

As the US and other Western countries evacuate their nationals from Sudan, a small number of Israelis in the southern part of the African country are safe, according to an Israeli search and rescue organization. Meanwhile, Israeli analysts are watching the situation with concern.

“The Israelis in Sudan are safe,” Hilik Magnus, the founder and chief rescue officer for Magnus International Search and Rescue, told the Tazpit Press Service on Sunday.

“There are some Israelis, mainly working in agriculture. In Khartoum, there are problems, but there are no Israelis in Khartoum,” Magnus said.

Regarding Sudan, he continued, “On one hand, it’s very simple because it’s big and there’s lots of opportunity. But it’s hard to operate there and it’s hard to get assistance when violence breaks out. There’s no medical service. It’s very shaky.”

A power struggle between Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s de facto military leader, and his deputy, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo escalated into open fighting between forces loyal to the two generals on April 15. According to the United Nations World Health Organization, 413 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the fighting.

Meanwhile, Dr. Yechiel Leiter, director-general of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a research institute, explained to TPS why Israelis and the rest of the world will be watching the outcome of the conflict very closely.

“On the practical level, Sudan enjoys a very long border with the Red Sea. That’s critical to international trade. Forty percent of European imports pass through the Red Sea and 15% of all international oil passes through there too. That’s huge,” Leiter said.

“The smuggling of weapons from Iran to Gaza goes through the Red Sea. One track is they unload the weapons in Sudanese ports and transport them by land to the Sinai and bring them into the Strip through tunnels. The other track is transporting them in smaller boats directly to the Sinai where they are met by Hamas frogmen. The military cooperation with Sudan will curtail weapons smuggling.”

He added that Sudan is poised to turn back a wave of radical Islam spreading across sub-Saharan Africa. “The region is the epicenter of radical Islam now, in a strip running from Mauritania to Sudan. If we can cooperate with Sudan to stymie the tide of young people joining terror organizations, that will reflect well on the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Overt ties with Israel?

Leiter also noted that budding Israeli-Sudanese ties carry a special symbolism.

Referring to a 1967 Arab League summit held in Sudan in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, Leiter said, “Khartoum is the capital of Arab rejection. The ‘three nos of Khartoum’ were no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel and no recognition of Israel. If five decades later, Israel is making peace with Sudan, that’s very symbolic of turning back the rejectionist tide.”

Sudan agreed to estabish ties with Israel in January 2021 as part of an arrangement with the US to get itself removed from a list of countries designated as state sponsors of terror. Unlike the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, however, Sudan has not made any moves to normalize ties, such as exchanging embassies.

“The Sudanese public isn’t ready” for overt diplomatic ties with Israel, Leiter explained to TPS. “Making peace between countries has to trickle down to the street and they need for the street to agree. Not enough of the general public is on board.”

After the signing, Eli Cohen, then Israel’s Intelligence Minister became the first known Israeli government minister to visit Khartoum. He led a delegation of intelligence and security officials to discuss diplomatic, security and economic issues with their Sudanese counterparts.

When Sudan signed the accords, the country was led jointly by Gen. Burhan and civilian Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok. Hamdok opposed joining the Abraham Accords, saying their transitional government did not have a mandate to sign the agreement.

Burhan seized power in a military coup in October 2021.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has called on Burhan to transfer power to an elected government, a position that Leiter called “foolhardy.”

Said Leiter, “We could see a repeat of what happened in Egypt in 2011 when the Muslim Brotherhood rode to power and took over the government. The last thing we need to see in Sudan is for a takeover by Muslim extremists.”

Sudan has been trying to reintegrate itself with the West following 30 years of repression and isolation under Omar Bashir, who allied Sudan with Iran.

Asked about possible Iranian involvement in Sudan’s fighting, Leiter said, “The key to understanding the Horn of Africa is this: The greater the instability, ethnic strife and political tension, the more Iran benefits. We can deduce from the fact that Iran benefits that they probably created the instability.”

Explaining the presence of Israeli agricultural workers in Sudan, Leiter said Khartoum has around 40 million people to feed and is in “desperate need” of Israeli agritech and assistance.

“Israel’s know-how in terms of sustainable greenhouse technology is critical to Sudan,” Leiter said.