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The Sunni-Shi'a War
Will We See a Sudanese Embassy in Jerusalem?

The Islamic, totalitarian government of Sudan is mulling opening diplomatic relations with Israel. The Jerusalem Post reports:

The Sudan News Agency reported that the committee for external relations of the National Dialogue Conference discussed the issue at a meeting on Monday. The report quoted one member of the committee, Ibrahim Suleiman, as saying that the majority of the committee called for the establishment of “normal and conditioned” relations with Israel [. . .]

Just three years ago, Bashir – following an attack on a military factory in Khartoum that Sudan blamed on Israel – vowed that his country would never normalize relations with the “Zionist enemy.”

At that time, Sudan was firmly in Iran’s camp, and was seen as a key link in smuggling arms to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

But since then, Sudan, which is majority Sunni, has shifted sharply towards Saudi Arabia, which leads the Sunni camp, as Sunni-Shi’a tensions have come to overshadow all other regional issues. And the Saudis have quietly been building significant intelligence, military, diplomatic, and even economic ties with Israel as both prepare to deal with an increasingly aggressive Iran.

Now, it looks like the Sudanese may be thinking, why not be more open about it? Official government sources followed up the news with a non-denial denial, with an FM spokesman saying that Sudanese backing for “[the] Palestinian cause . . . will remain unchanged” Depending on how one looks at it, support for the “Palestinian cause” is not, of course, incompatible with recognition of Israel. (Just ask Egypt.) And ironically, the Great Satan/Little Satan perception may actually be working to the U.S. and Israel’s advantage for once:

According to the report, Suleiman added that those who support the idea of normalizing ties with Israel believe it would help further Sudan’s interests. “The United States and Israel are two sides of the same coin and if the government underscores the importance to establish relation with America, why does it not establish ties with Israel?” he was quoted as saying.

We don’t want to overstate things; it is by no means guaranteed, or perhaps even more probable than not, that President Omar al-Bashir’s government will go all-in on full diplomatic recognition. But it would also not be nearly so shocking as it would have been twelve months ago. And the circumstance that officials of a hardline Islamic dictatorship are openly mulling this step is an indication of just how far regional dynamics have shifted.

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  • Episteme

    I’ve talked about it before, but the combination of events in the Middle East, that regional empowerment of both Iran and its proxies, as well as the rise of new Salafist quasi-state actors like IS, while conventional outside power-brokers do more (Russia) or less (the US) than expected in the region is having an interesting on Sunni-Israeli relations. The back-and-forth of many of the governments over the past decade in that area’s seasonal/color revolutions has oddly enough ended up with many now more open to at least defensive detente with Israel. At the same time, you have the younger generation of leadership in Saudi Arabia who are more open to working with Israel against Iranian interests (part of that larger global dynamics issue, as well as part of managing the growing Sunni Axis alongside fellow Israeli ‘allies’ Jordan and Egypt) and are increasingly changing the messaging internally on how the Palestinians need to manage themselves – these leaders didn’t grow up around Arafat and Intifadas, so the concern seems to actually be on getting Palestinian sovereignty and economic growth: even at the cost of black-balling failed Fatah leadership, cutting off the ties older generations had to a Hamas perfectly willing to play Iran’s games, and working alongside Israel to begin managing a political endgame so that Tehran stops exploiting the focus on Ramallah and Tel Aviv so often in the news to sponsor bad behavior elsewhere in the region…

    My general thesis still remains that only two goods will likely come out of this mess in warring Syria and with Iranian normalization: I expect over the next few years to see a developing detente and opening between the Sunnis and Israel that leads to a degree of recognition in the recognition and I expect that the Kurds will achieve an element of political autonomy out of the fight against IS and Assad (with their long connection to the Israelis, these two actually can and should feed each other over the course of the next few years as Saudi Arabia’s “Sunni Alliance” gets more directly involved in the efforts as the new generation takes over more fully – Mohammed ben Salman perhaps becoming king within the next few months – and accelerating a lot of the elements currently in stasis now that Iranian issues have been accelerated by the activation of the Obama deal.

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