JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel expects to fully normalize ties with Sudan sometime later this year, Israel's foreign minister said Thursday, after returning from a lightning diplomatic mission to the Sudanese capital.
Eli Cohen spoke to reporters after a one-day trip to Khartoum that included high-level meetings with military leaders, including Sudan's ruling general, Abdel-Fattah Burhan, who led a coup that overturned the country's transitional government in 2021.
“The agreement is expected to be signed this year and it will be the fourth" such accord, Cohen said, referring to the U.S.-brokered normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in 2020.
The announcement could help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deflect attention from a recent burst of violence with Palestinians and widespread public anger over his plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system — which critics say will badly damage Israel’s democratic system of checks and balances.
For Sudan’s ruling generals, a breakthrough with Israel could help convince foreign countries, including the United States and the UAE, to inject financial aid into the struggling economy. Sudan remains mired in a political stalemate between a popular pro-democracy movement and the country's powerful armed forces.
Earlier in the day, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said it would move forward to normalize full diplomatic ties with Israel. Sudan first signed a normalization agreement with Israel, joining Morocco, Bahrain, and the UAE in 2020 as part of the U.S.-brokered “Abraham Accords” to establish full diplomatic ties.
However, the process stalled amid widespread popular opposition in Sudan. The military coup in October 2021 then deposed Sudan’s government, upending the African country’s fragile democratic transition.
Cohen said that he presented a draft peace treaty to the Sudanese “that is expected to be signed after the transfer of authority to the civilian government that will be formed as part of the transition underway in the country.”
In its statement, the Sudanese ministry added that the talks aimed to strengthen cooperation in various sectors, including security and military. It also spoke of a need to achieve ″stability between Israel and the Palestinian people″ in light of a recent surge in violence.
A Sudanese military official close to the discussions said Thursday’s talks also aimed to ease Israel’s concerns that a future civilian government in Khartoum could reverse the course of normalization. He said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, that Israel and the U.S. “want to ensure that the deal would proceed” even after the military steps aside from politics.
In December, Sudan’s top generals and some political forces signed a broad pledge to remove the military from power and install a civilian government. But talks to reach a final and more inclusive peace agreement on the transition are still underway and the generals have yet to accede their powe
Three Sudanese military officials told The Associated Press earlier in the day that full normalization of ties would not be achieved anytime soon. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks with reporters.
The country's second-in-command, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who heads a powerful paramilitary known as the Rapid Support Forces, claimed that he had no knowledge of the visit and did not meet with the Israeli delegation in a bulletin carried by the state news agency.
Also earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu indicated a breakthrough was in the works. “We are continuing to expand the circle of peace,” he said before flying to France, noting that Chad, which borders Sudan, opened a new embassy in Israel earlier in the day.
"We will continue to expand and deepen the circle of peace with additional countries, both near and far,” added Netanyahu, who returned to office in December. During his previous 12-year term as premier, his government made it a priority to forge ties with formerly hostile countries in Africa and the Arab world.
Although Sudan does not have the influence or wealth of Gulf Arab countries, a deal with the African country — even as it is mired in a deep political and economic crisis — would be deeply significant for Israel.
Sudan was once one of Israel's fiercest critics in the Arab world and in 1993, the U.S. designated it a state sponsor of terrorism. The Trump administration removed Sudan from that list in 2020, a move meant to help the country revive its battered economy and end its pariah status, and an incentive to normalize relations with Israel.
Cohen spoke about the upcoming agreement as a “peace treaty" because of the two nations' long-standing animosity. Sudan hosted a landmark Arab League conference after the 1967 Mideast war where eight Arab countries approved the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations.
Under its autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir, Sudan was also a pipeline for Israel's archenemy Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel was believed to have been behind airstrikes in Sudan that destroyed a weapons convoy in 2009 and a weapons factory in 2012.
Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Jack Jeffery in Cairo contributed to this report.