x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sudan-Iran links under scrutiny after arms factory blast

Sudan's links to Iran came under scrutiny yesterday after Khartoum accused Israel of a deadly missile strike on a military factory in the heart of the capital.

KHARTOUM // Sudan's links to Iran came under scrutiny yesterday after Khartoum accused Israel of a deadly missile strike on a military factory in the heart of the capital.

The cabinet met in urgent session late on Wednesday after the government said evidence pointed to Israeli involvement in the attack at around midnight on Tuesday on the Yarmouk military manufacturing facility.

Sudan accused Israel of a similar raid 18 months ago.

Analysts, however, said they had not ruled out an accidental cause for the latest blast.

Israeli officials have expressed concern about arms smuggling through Sudan and have long accused Khartoum of serving as a base of support for militants from the Hamas movement.

Israel refused all comment on the Khartoum allegations, but Amos Gilad, a top Israeli defence official, yesterday called Sudan "a dangerous terrorist state".

Mr Gilad, director of policy and political-military affairs at the defence ministry, refused to reply directly when asked whether Israel was involved in the attack.

"The regime is supported by Iran and it serves as a route for the transfer, via Egyptian territory, of Iranian weapons to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists," he told Israel's army radio.

"Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir is regarded a war criminal."

Mr Al Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Sudan's Darfur region where a rebellion began in 2003.

His cabinet issued no statement after its meeting on Wednesday.

About 300 demonstrators denounced the United States and carried banners calling for Israel to be wiped off the earth.

"There was supposed to be an agreement between Sudan and Iran to produce some kind of non-conventional weapons," a diplomatic source said yesterday.

The source said he was also told that the Yarmouk factory was involved in drone production.

But Jonah Leff, of Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based independent research project, said he doubts such equipment is made locally.

Mr Leff's project has documented the presence of a drone, landmines and other Iranian weapons in Sudan but he thinks they were acquired directly from Iran.

"There's a lot of speculation that Iran has provided technical assistance to the Sudanese for their weapons manufacturing but I haven't been able to confirm that they're producing any Iranian weapons," he said.

Ahmed Bilal Osman, Sudan's information minister, said on Wednesday that the factory made "traditional weapons".

The diplomatic source said "the human factor" - a possible accidental cause - should not be ruled out although Sudanese officials are taking allegations of Israeli involvement seriously.

Mr Leff said it is just as likely that the Sudanese are blaming Israel to avoid embarrassment after an accidental blast.

In April last year, Sudan said it had irrefutable evidence that Israeli attack helicopters carried out a strike on a car south of Port Sudan.