Stealthy strike

Print edition : November 30, 2012

President Omar al-Bashir after a Cabinet meeting in Khartoum on October 24.-ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP

Radar-evading Israeli aircraft bomb an ordnance factory in Khartoum apparently as a veiled warning to Sudan against delivering to Gaza weapons obtained from Iran.

The midnight attack on October 24 by Israeli military aircraft on a Sudanese armaments factory located in Khartoum has baffled the international community. Sudan, already weakened by partition and internal wars, poses no credible threat to Israel. Yet, in the past couple of years Israel has been systematically targeting the country.

The Sudanese government has blamed the Israeli Air Force for the attack on the Yarmouk ordnance factory located in the southern part of the capital city. Sudanese officials said four radar-evading aircraft were involved in the attack. In the explosion that followed, two people were killed and many were injured. The Sudanese government has threatened retaliation. We reserve the right to react at a time and place we choose. We have the legal right to attack Israeli wherever. They killed our people, and we know how to retaliate, Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said. He said that unexploded bombs found on the site had clear Israeli markings.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, have neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the attack. Israel has a track record of carrying out assassinations and other covert acts all over the world. It is only now that the Israeli authorities have admitted to the killing of Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), Yasser Arafats deputy, in Tunis in 1988. Those currently occupying high positions in the present Israeli government were involved in the planning of the assassination.

Israels PSYOPS

Israel has been making several allegations against the government in Khartoum. One of them is that Sudan is supplying the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip weapons allegedly provided by Iran. Another is that Sudan has forged a military alliance with Iran and is helping Tehran sidestep the punitive sanctions the West has imposed on it. Immediately after the attack on the munitions factory, Amos Gilad, director of political-military affairs in the Israeli Defence Ministry, said Sudan was a dangerous terrorist state. He said it would take some time to understand the facts surrounding the attack.

A protest against Israel, in Khartoum on October 24.-REUTERS

Israeli security officials have since acknowledged that they do operate inside Sudan. They have unofficially let out information that F15 Super Strike Eagle bombers were used in the strike on the Yarmouk factory. Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli brigadier general, told the Associated Press that it was likely that his government perceived an imminent threat emanating from the ordnance factory. He said that the strike could have been aimed at destroying a new category of weapons that were meant to be delivered to Gaza.

Israeli analysts close to the countrys military establishment also claim that the aircraft involved in the bombing raid over Khartoum were fuelled in mid-air over the Red Sea as they completed the more than 4,000-kilometre round trip from their base in Israel.

The attack on Khartoum is also being interpreted by Israeli authorities as a veiled warning to Iran. It was meant to highlight the Israeli Air Forces stealth capabilities and ability to launch long-distance raids. A senior Israeli defence analyst, writing in the countrys top-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, claimed that the Sudan attack was a live practice run for Iran. Sudan and Iran had signed a military cooperation agreement in 2008 but the biggest supplier of arms to Sudan today is China. Iran supplies small arms and, more importantly, a few surveillance drones, which have been used by the Sudanese military in its operations in volatile regions such as Darfur.

In early November, the Barack Obama administration asked Israel to desist from any military adventurism against Iran. Most observers, however, are of the view that the latest attack on Sudan is part of the pysops (psychological operations) that Israel has been conducting against Iran. Besides, they point out that carrying out a similar operation against Iran would be a difficult proposition as Israeli planes would have to fly over countries such as Jordan and Iraq. The flight path that the Israeli planes took to attack Sudan, according to many defence analysts, passed through a busy international air corridor over the Red Sea, which helped them avoid military surveillance.

Protesters hand a memorandum to a U.N. representative in Khartoum.-ABD RAOUF/AP

Besides, any attack on Iran would put in motion a chain of events that could have unforeseen consequences for the region and the world. Efraim Halevy, a former chief of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, said that a war with Iran would be a generations-long war. Countries such as Egypt, which have normalised relations with Iran after the Arab Spring, will not take kindly to any unilateral action by Israel on Iran. The Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf are crucial for the commercial and military activities of the West.

Sudan has been quick to take up the matter with the United Nations Security Council. It asked the world body to condemn the Israeli aggression on its soil. Ali Osman, Sudans Ambassador to the U.N., described the attack as a blatant violation of the U.N. Charter. He also accused Israel of helping the rebel forces in Darfur. Fighting between the Sudanese Army and separatist forces has been going on for more than a decade.

A satellite picture of the Yarmouk munitions factory two days after the bombing.-AFP

Minister Bilal Osman said the Israeli bombing raid was aimed at weakening the Sudanese armed forces, which are currently fighting separatist forces on multiple fronts. Israel has supported southern Sudan for the past two decades in its fight to secede. Today, the newly independent South Sudan is a strong military and commercial ally of Israel. However, the Israeli raid on the armaments factory happened only weeks after the governments of Sudan and South Sudan had agreed to find a peaceful solution to their border problems and the distribution of oil revenues. Earlier in the year, the two countries were on the brink of a full-scale war. Fighting had broken out over the disputed oil-producing region of Abyei,

Bilal Osman pointed out that this was the fourth documented attack by Israel in the past couple of years. In 2009, a convoy carrying weapons to northern Sudan was targeted from the air, killing several people. Ehud Olmert, the then Israeli Prime Minister, had boasted: We operate everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructurein close places and in places far away.

Fire engulfs the ammunition factory on October 24 after a loud explosion following the attack.-REUTERS

Earlier this year, two convoys of vehicles were targeted from the air in a remote desert area near the countrys border with Egypt, killing 40 people. There were stories in the Israeli media that the two convoys were heading towards Gaza with arms supplies. Hamas was quick to deny that it received any armaments from Sudan. According to reports in the Arab media, sophisticated arms looted from Libyan armouries after the intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) there have been smuggled in large quantities into Gaza. In 2011, there was a missile strike on a car in Port Sudan, and two passengers were killed. Reports in the Israeli media said that the car was carrying a senior Hamas official. Hamas vehemently denied the claim.

Line of fire

Sudan anyway has been in the Wests line of fire for many years. In 1998, cruise missiles of the United States targeted a pharmaceutical factory in the country. It was in retaliation to Al Qaedas attacks on the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. Sudan had nothing to do with those attacks, but was a convenient soft target. Sudan had repaired its relations with the U.S. to a great extent after that. After South Sudan was allowed to secede last year, the Obama administration started the process to remove Sudan from the U.S. State Departments list of states that sponsor terrorism.

Israel obviously wants Sudan to remain on the terror list and may have launched the attacks to keep the spotlight on the alleged terrorist links Khartoum has with groups and states such as Hamas and Iran that are on Americas terror list. The Arab League has condemned the attack. Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil told Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha that his government rejects any aggression that undermines the sovereignty, security and integrity of Sudan.

The government led by Omar al-Bashir, which has so far weathered the impact of the Arab Spring, is trying to mobilise support among the people as it faces challenges from within and without. There were demonstrations against the government all over Sudan in the middle of the year. Heavy-handed tactics adopted by the security forces helped quell the demonstrations within a short time. Public dissatisfaction over the rising cost of living (petrol prices were hiked recently) has not helped matters. The country is facing an economic crisis ever since the south seceded. More than two-thirds of the oil that was produced in united Sudan came from the south. The refineries that are located in the north have remained mostly idle after the south unilaterally stopped pumping oil earlier in the year. Salafi elements are making attempts to sideline the moderate Islamists who have been in power since the military coup of 1988 led by Bashir. These elements reportedly played a big role in the violent protests that erupted in September following the release of the anti-Islam video in the U.S.