Follow-up on Sudan air strike

About two weeks have elapsed, a bunch of fanciful reports have come out, but we still don't know much more about the airstrike in North Sudan that Israel, or possible the United States, allegedly carried out. As I wrote before, this story should be treated with extreme caution as, as it currently stands, it smacks of manipulation and disinformation. Gideon Levy at Haaretz, unlike most Israeli journalists who are happy to report what the Arab press has published or what Mossad is leaking them, comes right out and labels the story as propaganda:
Nobody knows for sure what was bombed, how much and why. Sudan, after all, is far away. But we can rely on our fine young men in the Mossad and air force to know what they're doing. We were right, it worked again. All our forces returned safely, leaving only dust and ashes from the dangerous convoy. The muttering of Sudan's government about innocent fishing boats that were bombed is irrelevant. Fishermen or terrorists, a la guerre comme a la guerre. The military commentators and the entire Israeli nation in their footsteps were beside themselves with admiration. The Israeli James Bond is still here. An army that hasn't fought against another army for decades finds its glory in such operations. So does the political leadership. What did Olmert say with a wink after the Sudan incident? "There is no place where Israel cannot operate." Hooray. With a quarter of that imagination and daring we could have achieved peace already, but let's not go into such trivia.
Also read the Economist's take, which focuses on the ties between Sudan and Iran but could have been more cautious about the claims surrounding the attack.
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ABC: Three Israeli attacks on Sudan, not just one

Exclusive: Three Israeli Airstrikes Against Sudan - Political Radar:
"ABC News' Luis Martinez reports: Israel has conducted three military strikes against targets in Sudan since January in an effort to prevent what were believed to be Iranian weapons shipments from reaching Hamas in the Gaza Strip, ABC News has learned. Earlier this week, CBSNews.com was the first to report that Israel had conducted an airstrike in January against a convoy carrying weapons north into Egypt to be smuggled into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. But actually, since January, Israel has conducted a total of three military strikes against smugglers transporting what were believed to be Iranian weapons shipments  destined  for Gaza, a U.S. official told ABC News.  The information matches recent reports from Sudanese officials of two airstrikes in the desert of eastern Sudan and the sinking of a ship in the Red Sea carrying weapons."
Questions that come to mind: Saudi and Egyptian radars on the Red Sea must have seen planes, how long have they known? What kind of collaboration is there on this? What logistical support from the US?
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WSJ: Egypt addressed arms smuggling issue with Bashir

U.S., Egypt Push Sudan About Arms - WSJ.com:
"Both the U.S. and Egyptian governments have in recent weeks raised with Sudan's government their concerns that the African country has become a major facilitator for Gaza-bound weapons being smuggled into Egypt, according to officials briefed on the diplomatic exchanges. Washington sent a formal complaint to Khartoum demanding Sudan's government 'cease smuggling arms into Egypt,' according to a U.S. official. The official wouldn't provide an exact date. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak raised a similar complaint with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during the African strongman's visit to Cairo this week, according to a diplomat briefed on the meeting. The Egyptians are particularly concerned that Sudan is becoming an arms partner of Iran and aiding Tehran in moving weapons to the militant group Hamas, which is based in the Gaza Strip."
So that means Egypt acknowledges arms traffic through its territory from Sudan?
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State Dept. non-answers on Sudan strike

From the State Dept.Daily Press Briefing - March 26:
"QUESTION: On Sudan. If you could just please comment on reports about an alleged weapons convoy that was destroyed in Sudan, with weapons supposedly headed for Gaza. I believe the attack happened in January. Was the U.S. aware of this attack? Reports are saying that it was either carried out by the U.S., others are saying that it may have been carried out by Israel. MR. DUGUID: I’ve seen no reports that suggested U.S. involvement in this particular case. I’m aware of the media reports. I don’t have any information on that for you. It would be a defense issue, in any event. But I am unaware that there is any suggestion of U.S. involvement. QUESTION: Sudan’s – I believe it was the transport minister – has acknowledged that his country in the past has sent weapons to Hamas but says that is no longer the case. Is there a U.S. concern that Sudan is still providing weapons assistance to – through Gaza or to Hamas? MR. DUGUID: I don’t have any information for you on that. We are concerned that weapons are being sent to Hamas, that smuggling has been a problem in the Gaza Strip, and that is one of the things that everyone is working to resolve, particularly the Egyptians are working to resolve, in order to help bring peace back to the Gaza. QUESTION: Can I just clarify something? MR. DUGUID: Yes. QUESTION: Your remarks were a little unclear. Are you saying the U.S. did not have any involvement in that at all, just flat out? MR. DUGUID: I am unaware of any suggestion that the U.S. did. QUESTION: But there is a suggestion. There’s a Sudanese report saying that. MR. DUGUID: I am unaware of the report. I haven’t seen it and I don’t have any information on that. QUESTION: But Kirit isn’t asking whether you’re aware of any suggestions. He’s asking whether there was any involvement, to your knowledge. MR. DUGUID: But I am – and what I am telling you is that because I was unaware that there was any suggestion, I have not been informed that there was any sort of U.S. involvement. I will be happy to refer you to the Pentagon if this is something that would involve military action, but nothing I have seen indicates any U.S. involvement in this incident at all. QUESTION: And just on the same point then, do you have any indication of Israeli involvement? MR. DUGUID: I would refer you to the Israelis about their involvement in any particular military action."
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Things to remember about the Sudan air strike

One big question about the Sudan air strike story is what exactly happened: we have an attack on a convoy of trucks, but no clear explanation of what was on those trucks, what kind of aircraft carried the attack, the nature of the victims/smugglers or even certainty on who carried out the attack, although it seems more likely that it was Israel rather than the US (or perhaps Israel with US logistical support.) These are the basics, which are still hazy. But if we accept that an attack took place, and that it was conducted by Israel, we still need to think carefully about the implications of this story prima facie. One important thing is that the story appears to validate accounts by the like of Elliott Abrams that Hamas is arming through the Rafah tunnels with weapons smuggled in from the Horn of Africa, through Sudan, and through Egypt where the trucks would presumably go along the Red Sea coast and enter Sinai. Remember that the idea of smuggling through Sudan and Egypt was first advanced last February by Abrams, as Jim Lobe noted. Love argued in a follow-up:
The more one looks into it, the more Elliott Abrams’ rendition of how Iran allegedly smuggles weapons to Hamas in Gaza via Somalia and Eritrea just gets weirder and weirder. Remember: he was Bush’s top Middle East adviser from December, 2002, until January 20 and, as such, had access to the most sensitive information available to the U.S. intelligence community. Yet he seems to be lending himself to an extraordinarily crude Israeli disinformation campaign in which Somalia, which is some 1500 miles from Gaza, is depicted as a key trans-shipment point for the alleged supply of weapons from Iran to Hamas.
Yet among some this is fast becoming gospel. The Cable reports:
"A Washington think tank expert on the Middle East said, ‘The Israelis have been complaining about this supply route for a long time. This gives credence to Israeli reports that Iran is trans-shipping weapons through Sudan and Egypt to Hamas. It would be impolitic for the Israelis to do this in Egypt. This is something the Egyptians have worried about: what happens if there is some sort of attack on Israel from Egyptian soil: what kind of action would Israel take?’ He speculated that the Israeli warplanes took off from the southern Israeli air base at Ovda, flew through the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba, down the Red Sea in between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and across and over into Sudanese air space. They reportedly struck the targeted convoy northwest of the city of Port Sudan, killing some 39 members of the 17-vehicle convoy. Responding to the media reports Thursday, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert didn’t try to dispel the impression that Israel had carried out the operation. ‘We operate everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure -- in close places, in places further away, everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure, we hit them and we hit them in a way that increases deterrence,' Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz cited him."
Following this Somalia-Sudan-Egypt route, they would encounter multiple checkpoints and be going through governorates controlled directly by the Egyptian military. Needless to say, the idea that Iran is supplying Hamas long-range rockets and other sophisticated equipment through Egypt (which has bad relations with Iran and Hamas) suggests that either: 1. These trucks, like other types of human or drug traffic coming from Sudan, are not being caught and there is a severe security hole in Egypt's traffic-control policies; 2. The trucks are getting through by corruption and bribery of officials they encounter, or benefit from the protection of someone up high, although these people may think the trucks contain something else entirely, like drugs; 3. The Egyptian regime, or some officials within it, are somehow complicit with the trafficking and arming of Hamas. All of these, and especially the latter, are pretty hard to swallow. Which takes us back to a key issue: what was really on those trucks? There is plenty of weapons smuggling taking place in Sudan, for sure, but can a major operation like this have taken place overland going through Egypt, which is obviously concerned about both arms-dealing on its territory and arming Hamas (after all recently they've stopped millions of dollars, and hundred of sheep, from being smuggled!) Does this appear more logical than, say, smuggling by sea as has been recently alleged over the Cyprus ship? What if the trucks that were destroyed are not in fact destined for Gaza, and the attack itself is part of a disinformation campaign aimed at sending a message to Iran? Or that at least the importance of the trucks and their content has been exaggerated? Too much of this story has not been verified. It may very well all turn out to make sense, but right now I would treat it with great caution until we have more information.
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Links February 17th to February 19th

Links for February 17th through February 19th:

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Links February 9th to February 11th

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