A budding Islamist romance develops.
The UN Security Council warned the Islamic Republic of Sudan (Khartoum) and the new state of South Sudan in May 2012, that sanctions would be imposed on both countries unless their governments stopped the armed conflict they are engaged in and begin negotiating on how to share oil revenues, and come to an arrangement on border demarcation. Reuters Africa reported on May 2, 2012, that the UNSC resolution demanded that the parties commence talks within two weeks.
South Sudan gained its independence from Khartoum in July 2011 after a long civil war - two previous civil wars lasted from 1955-1972, 1983-2005. A Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in January 2005 between the People’s Liberation Movement of South Sudan (SPLM) and the Khartoum government, which stipulated that democratic governance would be put in place for all of Sudan and that oil revenue would be shared. Moreover, the Agreement set a timetable for a referendum in Southern Sudan regarding their independence. John Garang de Mabior, Chairman of the SPLM Army stated that the “peace agreement, in effect, prescribed a one-country-two-systems model, whereby the people of southern Sudan would decide after six years whether to remain within the Sudan or to opt for independence.”
The latest conflict, which erupted in April of this year, was a result of SPLM forces having seized the Heglig oil fields, located in the border area between the two states, with most of the fields within Southern Sudan. Khartoum bombed the area, in violation of the UNSC resolution of May 2, 2012, which called for the cessation of hostilities. In the meantime, Sudan’s Islamist president, Omar al-Bashir, turned to Islamist Iran for help. Al-Bashir, considered a war criminal by the International Court of Justice with ties to the genocide in Darfur, has been charged by the IJC with seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The IJC issued a warrant for Al-Bashir’s arrest on March 4, 2009.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, eager to win over the Sunni-Arab world, has been more than happy to comply and provide Khartoum with arms, ideology, and strengthened economic ties, including oil exploration. For Tehran, Bashir’s Sudan is a major Shiite Islam success story. Sudan is both an Arab and Sunni-Muslim previously allied with the West (under President Jafaar Numeiri). Omar Bashir transformed Sudan into an Islamic theocracy allied with Iran, and turned it into a base of operations for Tehran in Africa and the Middle East (supplying arms to Hamas in Gaza through Sudan).
During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Tehran was desperate to gain allies in the Arab world. It supported the coup that brought Omar al-Bashir to power in 1989 and has aided the Islamic government in Khartoum through investment in its oil infrastructure, and mostly by providing arms ever since. In 1992, Tehran sent more than 2000 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) to advise and train the Sudanese Popular Defense Force. IRGC forces in Sudan were also used to train Hezbollah terrorists, and set up a training infrastructure for various Islamic terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda. It was in Sudan that Iran and Al Qaeda opened a dialogue, putting aside their religious differences – Shiite vs. Sunni, respectively - to focus on the larger enemy - the U.S.
The special relationship between the theocracies of Tehran and Khartoum was revealed when Israeli jets struck an arms convoy destined for Hamas in Gaza in 2009. Since both Iran and Sudan are hindered by sanctions, Hezbollah agents in Sudan move Iranian arms shipped to Port Sudan through Egypt’s Sinai desert, using Bedouins to smuggle the weapons through tunnels to Gaza. Time Magazine (March 30, 2009) reported that “The bombing raid came after an intelligence tip-off. In early January 2009, at the height of Israel's assault on Gaza, Israel's foreign-intelligence agency, Mossad, was told by an informant that Iran was planning a major delivery of 120 tons of arms and explosives to Gaza, including anti-tank rockets and Fajir rockets with a 25-mile (40 km) range and a 99-lb. (45 kg) warhead. With little time to plan the operation, naval vessels and helicopters were rushed to the Red Sea in case Israel had to rescue a downed pilot, and the plan was hurried through. "The Israelis had less than a week to pull this all together…” According to Israel Today magazine (December 26, 2011), Sudan is a major conduit for trafficking of arms into the Gaza Strip.
Sudan and its capital Khartoum is Arab and Muslim, South Sudan and its capital Juba are African and largely Christian. And while Khartoum’s official language is Arabic, Juba’s is English. The British rulers sought to bring the southern Sudanese (African and Christian) provinces under Uganda but that failed. The subsequent struggle between the Arab-Muslim north and the African-Christian south has been ongoing since Sudan’s independence in 1955.
The current strategic ties between Israel and South Sudan are part of a long existing relationship that precedes their independence. Chaim Koren, Israel’s ambassador to South Sudan, had this to say about the relationship between the two states, “They see in us a kind of a role model in how a small country surrounded by enemies can survive and prosper, and they would lie to imitate that.”
Contact between the Southern Sudanese rebels and the Israeli government began in 1967, when the leader of the Anyana movement wrote a letter to then Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and explained to him that his group was fighting Israel’s enemies and keeping them bogged down. Eventually, SPLA leaders traveled to Israel and received military training.
James Mulla, director of the Voices of Sudan, based in the U.S. was quoted in the Times of Israel (6/28/12) as saying that, “Israel’s support proved pivotal to the Anyana’s success during the Sudanese civil war, which ended in 1972.” Mulla added, “Israel was the only country that helped the rebels in South Sudan, they provided advisors to the Anyana, which is one reason why the government of Sudan wanted to sign a peace agreement. They wanted to finish the Anyana movement just shortly before they got training and advice.”
As part of Arab Muslim Sudan, South Sudan was a member of the Arab League. With independence, however, South Sudan has openly resumed its relationship with Israel. Moreover, the push by Numeiri and Bashir to implement Sharia Islamic law in the South will now stop. The Khartoum government on the other hand, can find solidarity in the words of Mahmud Ahmadinejad that both countries are “facing international sanctions, and are victims of arrogant powers and enemies of mankind.”
Sudan is now a battleground not merely for military confrontation over oil resources between the Arab-Muslim North and the African-Christian independent South, which the UNSC has decried, but also a battleground between Iran and Israel as to which model will prevail: a theocratic Arab-Islamic Sudan, which seeks to impose its ideology on others much like the Islamic Republic of Iran; or a democratic, open society that tries to build itself from within and prosper, much like Israel.
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