Sudan’s president contradicts Netanyahu on flights through Sudanese airspace

Ties with Sudan are seen as improving, but its president says that Netanyahu misspoke on progress towards allowing flights to Israel through Sudanese airspace. 

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on Saturday denied that significant progress had been made on the issue of flights to Israel traveling through Sudanese airspace. In December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was “apparently” allowed to fly over the North African country, which does not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

The prime minister said: “Currently we can fly over Egypt, Chad, and apparently, we can fly over Sudan, and then we can fly directly to Brazil, which would save about two hours.” Netanyahu has just visited Brazil but reportedly did not fly over Sudan.

In his comments on Sudanese television, Bashir countered: “We received a request to use our airspace on the route to Tel Aviv. The request did not come from El Al but from Kenya Airways; we refused.”

In the prime minister’s announcement, he said that Israeli planes would also be allowed to fly over Oman, adding that he is working on getting Saudi Arabia’s permission to fly over the kingdom. Last year, Air India launched the first scheduled service to Israel to fly through Saudi airspace.

Netanyahu has often touted Israel’s growing ties with the Muslim world.

From Israel’s perspective, conditions improved for bettering ties with Sudan when Khartoum broke off relations with Iran in 2017, joining Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in taking the step. Sudan had served as a transfer route for Iranian arms and ammunition to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In fact, Israel had reportedly intercepted and destroyed Gaza-bound weapons in Sudan, with Israeli officials repeatedly warning of the IDF’s “long arm” in reaching the supplies destined for Hamas.

In 2016, Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said that Sudan was open to the idea of normalizing ties with Israel in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Khartoum, and Sudanese officials reportedly have continued to put out feelers.

It’s another diplomatic dilemma for Israel because Sudan can now be seen as an ally after the break with Tehran, but relations would pose a challenge because of the international condemnation of the Khartoum regime over the years, analysts say.  In 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity relating to the conflict in the western Darfur region.