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Will Arab leaders discuss Israeli airstrike in Sudan?

Arab League likely support Sudan's Bashir against war crimes charge, but discourage ties with Iran.

By Correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor / March 29, 2009



Tel Aviv

Arab reaction to media reports that Israeli aircraft attacked convoys in Sudan allegedly ferrying weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip has been tepid.

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The relatively muted reaction highlights Sunni Arab concerns about Iran's increasing interference in the region – a focus of an Arab summit Monday.

Israel carried out three attacks since January on what were believed to be arms shipments to Hamas, including longer range missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv, ABC News reported on Friday citing US officials. While Israel has adopted its familiar policy of declining comment, Arab countries have refrained from any protest.

"This is the first time Israel has attacked weapons shipments in a third-party country that has supported Iranian policies. It sent a strong message to Tehran, that supporting Hamas now carries a direct price," says Meir Javedanfar, who co-authored a book on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Compared to other Israel attacks on Arab soil, in this case the silence from the Arab world is deafening."

SUNNI ARAB WORRIES OVER BALANCE OF POWER

US-allied Sunni Arab nations such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have long been concerned about Iran's growing influence in the Middle East, including its meddling in Iraq and the Shiite-dominated nation's assistance to Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group in Lebanon.

Now, the growing assistance Iran has been giving to Hamas could tip the balance between the Islamist militants, who rule the Gaza Strip, and the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

The attacks were thought to target a supply corridor suspected of running from Iran around the Gulf Peninsula, through Sudan into Egypt, and then through Palestinian-dug tunnels to the Gaza Strip.

Sudan, whose president was recently indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity, has a reputation as a den of lawlessness. The country's weak international standing made it a convenient target for Israel compared to Egypt, with which it has close ties.

Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declined to confirm or deny the attack last week, but dropped a hint: "There is no place where the state of Israel cannot act. We operate near and far, and carry out strikes in a manner that strengthens our deterrence."

The attacks in late January and early February reportedly hit a convoy of trucks, killing as many as 50 smugglers. There were also reports of an Israeli attack on an Iranian ship around the same time. Sudan confirmed the attacks on the trucks, but didn't put the blame on Israel.

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