Analytic Guidance: Keeping an Eye on Sudan's Supporting Role in Gaza

5 MINS READJul 12, 2014 | 14:18 GMT
Analytic Guidance: Keep an Eye on Sudan's Supporting Role in Gaza
Sudanese President Omar al Bashir (L) shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after an official visit in Khartoum on June 27.

Editor's Note: The following is an internal Stratfor document produced to provide high-level guidance regarding exchanges of rocket fire and airstrikes in Israel and Gaza to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions for areas for focus.

There has been a noticeable uptick in diplomatic activity involving Sudan that could carry significant implications for the current Gaza crisis and its aftermath.

The following diplomatic engagements in recent days are worth noting:

June 23: Egyptian presidential assistant, Musa Muhammad Ahmad, holds a meeting with the Sudanese ambassador to Cairo, Anthony Kon.

June 27: Newly elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stops in Khartoum during his flight back from the African Union Summit in Equatorial Guinea. Al-Sisi reportedly holds a two-hour meeting with Sudanese President Omar al Bashir before returning to Cairo. (The bodies of the three missing Israeli teens would be found in a field near the West Bank's Hebron three days later.)

July 6: Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah makes a previously unscheduled visit to Khartoum and holds discussions with al Bashir and Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti. During the meeting, al-Attiyah extends to al Bashir a personal invitation from Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to travel to Doha.

July 8: Al Bashir arrives in Qatar accompanied by Minister of the Presidency Salah Wansi, Foreign Minister Ali Karti and the Director of National Intelligence and Security Services Mohamed Atta Abbas al-Moula. The Sudanese delegation meets with al-Thani. (Israel launches Operation Protective Edge.)

July 9: Qatari Foreign Minister al-Attiyah receives a phone call from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. On his second day in Doha, al Bashir receives at his personal residence the head of the Hamas political wing, Khaled Meshaal.

July 11: U.S. Secretary of State Kerry again calls Qatari Foreign Minister al-Attiyah on the issue of defusing the conflict in Gaza.

Sudan is a critical node of the rocket supply chain to Gaza. The components for the long-range Iranian-made Fajr-5 and Syrian-made Khaibar-1 rockets that can reach deep into Israeli urban areas — or possibly even fully assembled weapons — have traveled from Iran to Sudan's Red Sea ports before making their way overland into the Sinai Peninsula to reach the Gaza Strip. Sudan in the past has provided storage and production facilities for rockets with shorter ranges, reaching up to 45 kilometers (28 miles), along with small arms ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and similar weaponry that could then be shipped along to Gaza. There is a strong potential that Sudan could also produce components for more critical long-range rockets in its arms factories.

The rate of rocket attacks coming from Gaza over the past week exposes Israel's significant intelligence failure in interdicting these supplies. If Hamas and its military backers in Iran are interested in tightening security over this route and in replenishing Gaza stockpiles, they need to have a conversation with Sudan. If the United States, Israel and Egypt have any hope of effectively cutting this vital line of supply to Gaza to stem the rocket flow, they, too, need to engage Sudan.

Egypt and Iran have competed for influence with the Sudanese leadership. Egypt, in trying to contain Hamas and avoid a conflict with Israel while also trying to recruit Sudan in its dam dispute with Ethiopia, has formally expanded military cooperation with Sudan over the past year. Stratfor sources have reported previously that the Egyptian leadership, armed with Saudi financial support, had tried to incentivize Khartoum to cut ties with Iran, which has depended on Sudan to maintain a supply route to Gaza. Evidently, those efforts have not had much success, and Sudan still appears to be cooperating closely with Hamas and Iran.

Qatar's political and financial investment with the Sudanese leadership since 2008 adds another dimension to the regional courtship of Sudan. Qatar has been on the search for popular resistance groups to sponsor as a way to boost its own leverage in the region. Qatari sponsorship is not sensitive to ideological orientation, either. In Syria, Qatar has backed its own sub-set of Sunni rebels in competition with Saudi Arabia. In Egypt, Qatar lost out when it gambled on the Muslim Brotherhood's temporal rise.

In the Palestinian territories, Qatar has been focused on Hamas. In fact, Qatar openly welcomed Hamas to relocate its political office to Doha when the Hamas leadership decided to move out of Damascus in the midst of the Syrian civil war. Qatar has also long struggled to get food, fuel and supplies into Gaza through Egypt. Sudan offers an alternative (though admittedly complicated and typically illicit and inefficient) pathway for Qatari support to reach Gaza. 

At the same time, Qatar has maintained a strategic relationship with the United States as well as Iran, ensuring it has relations with enough sides of any regional conflict to maintain balance and keep its options open. It appears that Washington is leaning on Qatar to rein in Sudan's role in supplying critical weaponry to Hamas. However, Qatar is openly backing Hamas in the current conflict with Israel, providing aid and political support to the Hamas leadership. Doha is trying to position itself as a mediator in the conflict and could attempt to broker a cease-fire at the appropriate time, but any cease-fire agreement will inevitably have to address Sudan's role in the rocket supply chain to Gaza. 

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