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.