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Foreign intelligence sources said Israel carried out a unmanned drone raid on a convoy south of Khartoum last month that destroyed 200 tonnes of munitions, including rockets, intended for Gaza.
Tuesday’s blowing up of the Sudanese munitions factory was different to previous incidents, in that a state asset was hit. In a further suggestion of escalation by Israel, witnesses said the sortie was carried out by piloted fighter jets.
Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defence official, made clear that Sudan should be considered fair game - an enemy like Hamas and Iran - and that Cairo’s interests were also at stake.
“It is clear that it (Sudan) supports the smuggling of munitions, or it helps Gaza. In actuality, these munitions pass through Egypt, so it is endangering its major neighbour, Egypt. It harms national security because tomorrow these arms could also be used against the Egyptians,” Gilad told Army Radio.
Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman declined to say whether any weapons from the attacked Yarmouk arms factory in Khartoum had ended up in Gaza, saying on Wednesday that only “traditional weapons in line with international law” were produced there.
A Swiss-published 2009 Small Arms Survey sponsored by several European governments found that Iran was a major supplier of light munitions to Sudan.
Khartoum has not said whether Iran was in any way involved in the factory that was bombed. A non-Israeli source briefed on the incident said the air strike focused on the main open area between the plant’s main buildings, leaving open the possibility the target was specific personnel or production lines, rather than the whole complex.
Given the some 1,900 km (1,200 mile) distance between Israel and Sudan, some Israeli commentators saw in the alleged raid a warning to Iran, whose similarly remote nuclear facilities the Netanyahu government has hinted it could attack should diplomatic efforts to shut them down fail.
Alex Fishman, senior defence analyst for Israel’s top-selling newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, dubbed the Sudan raid a “live-fire practice run” for Iran.
But the Israeli ex-official, who has an extensive military background, was sceptical about comparing a fenced, open-air Khartoum factory with antiquated air defences to Iran’s dug-in nuclear facilities.
The ex-official also noted the further difference between flying along the Red Sea toward Sudan, an international aviation corridor, to the prospect of Israeli jets reaching Iran through the unfriendly skies of Arab states like Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.
“Israel isn’t ‘signalling’ to Iran, just as it’s not ‘signalling’ to the terrorists in Sinai,” the ex-official said. “Whatever actions might be taken in Sudan are taken to counter a real, immediate threat.”
Though attacks on Israel by Sinai jihadis have been mainly with small arms, there have been occasional short-range rocket launches and Israeli officials worry about possible attempts to down airliners with shoulder-fired missiles.