A new friend for Israel in... South Sudan
At a time of diplomatic turbulence, Israel's diplomatic ties with the world's newest nation, South Sudan, can benefit its economy and security. While struggling South Sudan will appreciate Israel's aid, it's actually Israel that stands to gain.
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Partnering up with South Sudan also enables Israel – and by extension, the United States – to increase pressure on neighboring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whose government has capitalized on terrorism in the past. While Sudan has drastically reduced its support for terrorist attacks in the region after the September 11 attacks, Mr. Bashir’s country continues to serve as a place of convenience for those who would be more than happy to strike western targets. (Osama bin Laden resided in Sudan before traveling to Afghanistan in 2001.)Skip to next paragraph
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Elements of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, two groups that have launched attacks against Israelis this year, are also known to operate in Sudan, with or without the permission of Sudanese authorities.
Indeed, whether the Sudanese are complicit in the arrangement is not necessarily the most frightening aspect of this situation for the Israelis. The major concern is that armed groups are operating on Sudanese territory with relative impunity, ensuring that their fighters are well rested and their organization is at least healthy enough to survive another day.
What has been most worrisome to Israelis over the past few years are intelligence reports alleging that armed Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip have used Sudan as a transit point for smuggling weapons into the coastal territory. Israeli and US intelligence has indicated that Sudan serves as a layover for Iranian weapons destined for fighters in Gaza, an arrangement that Israel has tried to counter by bombing suspected weapons convoy sites on Sudanese territory.
Sudan losing a third of its territory to the South Sudanese will undeniably throw a wrench into the inner workings of these fundraising and arms procurement efforts. This disruption will continue, of course, only if South Sudan quickly undertakes the hard work of converting a guerrilla force into a coherent and law-abiding army – one that follows international human rights law, the laws of war, and is held accountable by the senior military and civilian leadership when the rules are violated.
None of this will come shortly or out of thin air. But having established diplomatic ties with dozens of countries around the world – including with an Israeli state that prides itself on its military record – South Sudan is not alone in the journey.
South Sudan may have been admitted to the United Nations as a full member state, but the work of building a stable nation has only just begun. Multiple challenges remain for the young country, ranging from meeting food security needs to ensuring that their soldiers can refrain from contributing to yet another conflict with the Sudanese Government on the contentious border. Israel can help with this transition, picking up a new ally at a time when it faces a significant bout of diplomatic turbulence.
Daniel R. DePetris studies security issues and Middle Eastern affairs at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, where he is an associate editor of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis. He has contributed to the Diplomat, Small Wars Journal, and Foreign Policy in Focus.