What's behind UAE, Uganda helping Netanyahu meet Sudan's leader

Published: February 6, 2020

On Monday, Netanyahu’s office said he met Abdul Fattah al-Burhan in Uganda and agreed to start cooperation to normalize ties

A historic meeting this Monday of Israel’s prime minister and Sudan’s transitional leader got a big push from regional countries of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, as well as Sudan’s neighbor Uganda, said a Sudanese analyst.

The meeting was meant to lead to a normalizing of ties between the two countries for the first time since 1956, the year Sudan gained independence. 

The Times of Israel quoted an unnamed Sudanese official as saying that the UAE had arranged the meeting with the knowledge of both Saudi Arabia and Egypt. One day before the visit, Ugandan local media said that Uganda would facilitate meetings between Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and some leaders of African nations which Israel lacks official ties with.

The U.S. welcomed Abdul Fattah Al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, meeting with Netanyahu, saying that it would lead to healthier ties between Sudan and Washington.

For its part, the Palestinian government denounced the Monday meeting in Entebbe, blasting it as a “stab in the back” for the Palestinian people.

UAE plans for Sudan

Salah Aldoma, a political analyst at Sudan’s Omdurman Islamic University, said that UAE and its regional backers and parts of the international community are imposing their own agenda on Sudan focused on obstructing civilian rule and democratic transformation in the country.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Aldoma said he believes that UAE is leading efforts seeking military domination of the country since the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 and is working tirelessly to give them strength over civilians.

The meeting with Netanyahu, said Aldoma, showed “a clear dictatorial attitude by General Al-Burhan, as he made such a serious and strategic decision without any consultations with his civilian colleagues in the government, even in the Sovereign Council [the transition body], or the Cabinet.” 

Aldoma dismissed claims by some activists that the move would lead to the U.S. lifting sanctions from Sudan or removing it from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

“Al-Burhan and his group of generals are actually afraid of accountability for their crimes of breaking up the sit-in protest around Sudan’s army headquarters last June 3 and other violations, so the UAE and its regional allies may impose their agenda,” he said.

“They are actually selling this position to secure themselves, so they put the transitional government in a very critical position before the Sudanese people as well as the regional and international communities.” 

The UAE and its regional allies of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are using Sudan to test how much support they can drum up for the so-called “Deal of the Century” U.S. peace plan, touted as seeking an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict but widely denounced by Arab and Muslim countries.

Uganda’s role

Israel has been expanding its ties and influence in African countries over the past few years, and Sudan is a key goal in this regard, even before last year’s ouster of longtime leader Bashir, said Khalid Ahmed, a Sudanese journalist based in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

He told Anadolu Agency that Uganda also has interests in facilitating ties between Israel and other African neighbors, including Sudan, as Uganda itself has agreed to mutually set up diplomatic missions with Israel, ending a boycott dating back to 1972.

“Uganda is also a very influential country in Sudanese issues in terms of peace building, the mutual interests in South Sudan, and the IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development trade bloc] umbrella among other strategic issues, so it could have played a major role in this regard, especially as Uganda has a special envoy for the issues of Sudan and South Sudan,” said Ahmed.

On Netanyahu’s meeting with Sudan’s leader, he said there were signs beforehand it would happen, citing how “we saw Sudan’s new government has begun ending the presence of Palestinian groups including Hamas, the hints about other countries, the rumors that Israeli flights would pass through Sudanese airspace,” culminating in the meeting, he said.

“Sudan is also very important for Israel as it can use its airspace to go to West Africa and other continents, and it can also solve its crisis of African asylum seekers,” he explained. 

“Sudan and Uganda are also close to the headwaters of the Nile, among other strategic issues, and also Khartoum needs Israel to bridge its ties with the U.S. and to ease sanctions on Sudan and to help it to overcome its economic crisis.”


The official U.S. praise for the meeting confirmed that Al-Burhan and Netanyahu have agreed to normalize the countries’ ties.

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with the Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan on February 2, 2020,” said a State Department press release. 

“The two leaders underscored their shared desire to improve Sudan’s active participation in the region and international communities and their commitment to work towards a stronger, healthier U.S.-Sudan bilateral relationship. 

“Secretary Pompeo thanked General al-Burhan for his leadership in normalizing ties with Israel as a result of General al-Burhan’s recent meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda at the invitation of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni.” 

Domestic condemnations

Within Sudan, numerous political parties and Islamic groups roundly denounced the meeting with Netanyahu.

Amin Hassan Omer, a leading member of the National Congress Party (NCP), told Anadolu Agency that the Sudanese people would never abandon their “steadfast” support for the Palestinians and their right to establish an independent state.

In a speech, he pledged that the Sudanese people will make a course correction after the meeting, replacing it with their “clear solidarity” with the Palestinian people.

The Islamic party of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) also criticized the move, calling on the Sovereign Council to refuse to recognize Al-Burhan’s move.

Abdul Hai Youssef, a top Sudanese Islamic cleric, also condemned the move, blasting it as “treason” against Islamic nations.

The Sudanese Communist Party also denounced the meeting, calling normalized ties with Israel a meaningless concession that would never benefit the Sudanese people.

“Our position regarding any ties with Israel is very clear as we are totally against them,” said Fathi Fadul, a party spokesman.

“We believe the military component of the government wants to strengthen itself through the support of Zionist and imperialist countries in the world in order to abort Sudan’s democratic transformation.”


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