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Briefing

Sudan's Bashir threatens Israel over alleged airstrike

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir vowed today to retaliate against Israel for a recent alleged airstrike. The Monitor explains the background of the dispute.

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Earlier that year, the United States had complained to Sudan that the country's Badr Airlines was flying in "lethal military equipment" from Iran and requested that the shipments stop.

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Why would Israel care?

Israel asserts that Sudan is the starting point for Iranian arms shipments to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, a militant Islamist group. The allegation is that Sudan moves weapons through the Egyptian mainland and the lawless Sinai Peninsula before they enter the Palestinian enclave's smuggling tunnels. US, Israeli, and Egyptian officials have frequently confirmed that arms smuggling from Sudan is commonplace, notably to Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In 2011, an air attack on a passenger car in northern Sudan was assumed by much of the Israeli press to be the work of their government, though – as with the latest incident – there was neither a confirmation nor a denial from Israeli officials.

In early 2009, Israel carried out three airstrikes in Sudanese territory, one of them an attack on a freighter in the Red Sea. The most serious of the strikes left 39 dead in a convoy near the Egyptian border. Israeli officials have been particularly concerned that Iran will find a way to arm militants in Gaza with longer-range missiles.

Wasn't the US involved in an airstrike on Sudan?

Yes, long ago. Under President Bill Clinton in 1998, the US fired a series of cruise missiles at Sudan in retaliation for Al Qaeda's attacks on US embassies in Africa that year. Osama bin Laden and the core of Al Qaeda had resided in the country under Mr. Bashir's protection earlier in the decade, and the most famous US target was the Al Shifa medical factory, which the US alleged was being used to make a chemical precursor for nerve gas, a claim the Sudanese government still disputes. For a look at how the Sudanese have turned Al Shifa into an anti-US shrine, read the Monitor's recent report from the bombed out factory.

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