Did Israel just blow up an Iranian weapons factory in Sudan?
The Sudanese government blames Israel for an explosion at a munitions plant in Khartoum. Israeli media have reported the factory is owned by Iran's Revolutionary Guard and made arms for Hamas.
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Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor. He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog. He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.
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The Sudanese government is blaming Israel for an explosion at a munitions plant in Khartoum early yesterday morning that Israeli media say was owned by Iran's Revolutionary Guard and made arms for Hamas.
The Sudan Tribune reports that Ahmad Bilal Osman, Sudan's media minister, said in a press conference yesterday that the government had proof that Israel was behind the explosion that destroyed the Yarmook military factory and killed two people around midnight.
The Sudanese minister said that their accusation against the Jewish state did not come out of thin air but was based on evidences and accounts of eye witnesses confirming that four planes that entered the country from the east had destroyed factory using high technology that jammed radars at Khartoum airport.
Osman dismissed the possibility that neighboring South Sudan or internal rebel groups were behind the attack, saying only Israel has the kind of high technology with which the attack was carried out.
The minister of media said in his press conference in Khartoum that 60 percent of Al-Yarmook ammunition factory was completely destroyed while 40 percent was partially destroyed. He revealed that the government had plans to relocate the factory to an area outside of the capital “but the Israelis knew this and decided to attack preemptively.”
Mr. Osman also said that the factory made small arms, and was not involved in assembly of advanced munitions, such as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
Opposition sources in Sudan claim that the Yarmook factory was owned by Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which has a history of involvement in Sudan in order to supply Hamas with arms, reports Haaretz.
In recent years, several reports published in the Arab media said that Iran's Revolutionary Guard built weapons manufacturing plants together with the Sudanese government.
However, their military cooperation does not end with the establishment of one military plant, and even senior Sudanese officials have not denied in the past that Iran has military factories on their land.
In fact, according to foreign reports, the arms factories that Iran built in Sudan were meant to arm Hamas. In the past, European media reported that Iran has sent men from the Republican Guard in order to train the Sudanese army.
Residents of Khartoum confirmed to Reuters that they had heard planes or missiles before the explosions that destroyed the factory, although reporters were unable to assess the damage to the factory itself because the Sudanese military blocked off the plant after the blast.
"I heard a sound like a plane or missile and then the sky was lit up and a huge explosion occurred," a resident who declined to be identified said. "There was a big fire and several subsequent explosions."
Two other residents said buildings near the plant had suffered minor damage.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the accusations. The Globe and Mail reports that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “There is nothing I can say about this subject,” and Israeli defense official Amos Gilad did not reply directly when asked on Israeli army radio about Israel's involvement in the attack, although he did call Sudan a "dangerous terrorist state" that is "supported by Iran," reports Agence France-Presse.
BBC News diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus writes that while Sudan has yet to offer any proof of Israel's involvement in the explosion, the claim "is by no means as outlandish as it might sound. For a bitter secret war has been going on for a number of years between Israel and Hamas, with Sudan apparently very much one of the battlegrounds."
US diplomatic cables have revealed alleged arms smuggling networks running through Sudan. In January and February of 2009 there were two mystery air attacks on convoys in the Sudanese desert. More recently, in April last year, there were reports that a senior Hamas figure, thought to be responsible for arranging arms supplies, was killed near Port Sudan.
The Sudanese government said that Israeli attack helicopters had destroyed the car in which two individuals were travelling. Again there is no confirmation of any of this and the Israelis are saying nothing.
Israel's Ynetnews notes that according to an Al Hayat report, the US embassy in Khartoum was closed yesterday, which some in Sudan say is an indication that the US had foreknowledge of the apparent attack on the Yarmook factory.