Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 September 2020

Israeli aircraft flies over Sudan in sign of thaw

It shows a step towards improving ties with an Arab state that has long been hostile to Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel has flown a plane over Sudan in a sign that relations are thawing. AFP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel has flown a plane over Sudan in a sign that relations are thawing. AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that an Israeli aircraft made a historic first flight over Sudan just two weeks after he met with the state’s leader in Uganda.

The Israeli premier met with the head of Sudan’s transitional government, Gen Abdel Fattah Burhan, in a major step toward improving ties with an Arab state that has long been hostile to Israel.

Mr Netanyahu touted his meeting with the Sudanese leader as yet another foreign relations accomplishment before March 2’s parliamentary elections, Israel’s third in a year.

Israel and Sudan are “discussing rapid normalisation,” Mr Netanyahu said Sunday, adding that “the first Israeli airplane passed yesterday over the skies of Sudan.” He was speaking at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem.

An Israeli government official said the plane was “a private Israeli executive jet,” not a flight with Israel’s national carrier El Al. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the press.

Flight data from the Flight Aware website showed a private business jet crossing Sudanese airspace on a flight from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Tel Aviv on Thursday night, landing in Israel at 4:25am local time on Friday morning.

It remained unclear whether Mr Netanyahu was referring to the same flight.

Sudan, a longtime member of the Arab League, has joined other member states in rejecting the Trump administration’s Mideast plan that Palestinians have said is heavily biased towards Israel. But to rebuild Sudan’s economy, the new administration in Khartoum also seeks an end to American sanctions as a US-listed state sponsor of terror.

Longtime Sudanese leader Omar Al Bashir was ousted in a 2019 military coup amid pro-democracy protests. Mr Burhan heads the transitional council ruling the country now.

Mr Netanyahu’s meeting with Mr Burhan was kept secret until after the fact due to sensitivities of the Sudanese leader meeting with the prime minister of Israel.

Mr Netanyahu has played up the development of covert ties with Arab states as a foreign policy coup during his administration, even as his bid for a fourth consecutive term in office is overshadowed by his indictment. He was formally charged last month on several counts of corruption.

Updated: February 17, 2020 08:56 AM

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