Behind Concerns Over Iran-Sudan Ties

WATCH out for Iran now that Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization are inching toward a peace agreement.

Arab extremists are already trying to sabotage the Palestinian self-rule plan, even threatening to assassinate PLO leader Yasser Arafat if he agrees to it.

This extremist discontent will be fanned by Iran, the haven and home of Islamic fundamentalism, which seeks to expand its extreme brand of Islam across the Arab world.

In its campaign, Iran has found a willing weapon in the form of Sudan, one of Africa's largest countries, which straddles the Arab north and black Africa to the south.

It is Sudan's new alliance with Iran, and its willingness to become a launching pad for a string of Islamic terrorist ventures, that caused the United States government to run out of patience and add Sudan to its official list of terrorist states recently.

Two aspects of the new Iran-Sudan axis are troubling.

First, Sudan is geographically ideal as a base for the export of fundamentalism. It has a long border with Egypt, despised by Sudan's leader Hassan al-Turabi. It is very close to Saudi Arabia, another of Mr. Turabi's objects of contempt. It is the gateway to black Africa, which is seen by the fundamentalists as promising missionary territory.

Second, this is the first alliance between Islam's minority Shiites, who rule Iran, and a governing regime (in the Sudan) of Sunni Muslims - which brings no cheer to Sunni regimes elsewhere in the Middle East.

Iran's fast-growing mentorship of Sudan is chronicled in a new book, ``Islamic Fundamentalism,'' by Mohammad Mohaddesin. Mr. Mohaddesin is the foreign policy expert of the People's Mojahedin, which is committed to overthrowing the regime in Iran. Although he is clearly a partisan player, he has written a scholarly book that, among other things, sets out Iran's growing ties with Sudan.

The relationship has taken off since a visit to Sudan some 18 months ago by Iran's leader Hashemi Rafsanjani. According to Mohaddesin, not only did Mr. Rafsanjani commit $17 million of financial aid to Sudan on the spot, but he also agreed to pay China $300 million for weapons to be supplied to Sudan. Iran also agreed to deliver a million tons of oil annually, free of payment.

The investment is paying off. Iran has shipped a contingent of revolutionary guards - perhaps as many as 2,000 - to Sudan and they are operating some 10 to 12 training camps for Egyptian, Algerian, Tunisian, Lebanese, and Sudanese fundamentalists.

Mohaddesin claims that the revolutionary guards in Sudan are drawn from the ``Qods (Jerusalem) Force,'' which is responsible for extraterritorial activities, including terrorist operations. The force is currently centered in the Shambat and Koravi regions.

Installed as Iran's ambassador in Sudan is Majid Kamal, Tehran's top agent in Beirut during the 1980s, who played a key role in the formation of hizbullah.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak is convinced that at least some of the mounting terrorism in his country is orchestrated from Sudan. He says Sudan has trained Islamic fundamentalists active in Egypt.

Senior Egyptian officials have been the targets of a string of assassination attempts, the latest being upon Interior Minister Hassan al-Alfi. He survived. Mr. Mubarak also says Sudan is the source of a vast illegal arms traffic to Egypt.

US intelligence agents are continuing their investigation into the role Sudanese diplomats in New York may have played in a plot to bomb New York targets, including the United Nations.

In the face of all this, Sudanese officials disclaim any wrongdoing. Terrorist groups may be located in their country, they say, but this is as a result of traditional Sudanese ``hospitality'' to any fellow Muslim. It is a transparent excuse for permitting terrorism against fellow Arab states the Sudanese believe are unworthy followers of Islam and against what Sudan perceives to be foes in the West.

No wonder that Sudan is being manipulated as the instrument of Iran, which says the first priority of its foreign policy is the establishment of a ``global Islamic government.''

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