Could normalization between Israel and Sudan endangered by internal Israeli rivalries?
https://www.jpost.com/-By YONAH JEREMY BOB
A Sudanese demonstrator, seeking to revive a push for civilian rule in ongoing tumult since the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir more than two months ago, makes a victory sign during a demonstration in Khartoum, Sudan, June 27, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS/FILE PHOTO)
Is it possible that the coup of Israeli-Sudanese normalization could be endangered by internal Israeli rivalries?
Earlier this week, Axios reported that senior Sudanese civilian officials were complaining to both Israeli and US government officials about uncoordinated side contacts between the Mossad and Sudanese military officials.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that the side contacts are part of an ongoing rivalry between the Mossad and National Security Council (NSC) chief Meir Ben Shabbat for influence with power centers in Sudan.
There are at least three key figures currently in Sudan.
Ben Shabbat more recently has dealt more directly with Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, the chairman of Sudan’s governing council.
In the past, Mossad’s Yossi Cohen, who retired as director on June 1, had ties to al-Burhan and helped arrange a key meeting between the general and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But at some point, the Post understands that Cohen started working more directly through Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
Ben Shabbat and Cohen had major rivalries for control over the normalization processes with Sudan and Morocco as well as over Iran policy.
Although officially Netanyahu eventually gave Ben Shabbat the Sudan and Morocco portfolios within his office, it seems that the former prime minister quietly authorized or overlooked Cohen’s ties with Hamdok.
If that was the end of the story, it would already be a complicated one which could lead to mistakes and suspicions from the Sudanese about Israeli plotting and intervening in their own domestic issues.
But what could endanger normalization – especially since a final normalization document has still not been signed – is the next layer of complexity.
UNDER COHEN – and now it seems, also under new Mossad director David Barnea – the Mossad has developed ties with Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemetti.
Technically, Hemetti is al-Burhan’s deputy.
However, that is just on paper.
Underneath the official narrative, Hemetti may be the true power in Sudan since he controls the largest and most powerful military force – a seasoned militia which far outshines the country’s military.
Hemetti is credited by many as the true figure who toppled the country’s former 25-year dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
The question then is whether the Mossad is playing its cards carefully and flexibly for Israel in case Hemetti takes over at some point, or whether the issue is a more generic continuation of the rivalry between Ben Shabbat and the Mossad for control of certain foreign issues.
The Post has learned that Israeli officials under Netanyahu were cognizant of the issue – and some even got an earful from the Sudanese about it. But it was never resolved, like some other manifestations of the rivalry.
Further, the Post understands that at least to date, the issue has not been addressed by the new government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
Another twist in all of this is the question of who will resolve the issue between Bennett and Lapid.
Bennett is prime minister and controls the Mossad and the NSC.
But Lapid is supposed to have a Foreign Ministry of far greater power than has been seen possibly since Shimon Peres served under Yitzhak Rabin in the mid-1990s.
The ministry’s power was much more limited in the Netanyahu era, leaving the rivalry mainly among his officials.
Will the Bennett-Lapid government resolve the rivalry over Sudan policy – in which Sudanese officials complain to Americans about the Mossad operating independently with military leaders behind the backs of civilian leaders, as if it is the Wild West?
Or will the Foreign Ministry simply be a new, third rivalry to add into the mix?
One thing is for sure – the Post understands that Sudan is not a country with huge numbers of airports and international flights.
The Mossad may be able to pop in and out of other countries without being noticed at all.
But if it continues to operate in Sudan directly with military leaders like Hemetti, and without coordinating with the civilian leadership, it will be noticed – and normalization could be in the balance.