Israeli PM meets Sudan's leader in Uganda, aims for 'normalisation'

  • 4 Feb 2020

Israel PM Netanyahu says he met with Sudan's General Abdel Fattah Burhan in Entebbe city, a meeting set up by Kampala.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (R) and Uganda's First Lady Janet Museveni (2nd R) pose for photo with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his wife Sara Netanyahu (2nd L), at the State House in Entebbe, Uganda on February 3, 2020. ( AFP )

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he met with the leader of Sudan's transitional government and that they began the process of normalisation, a major diplomatic breakthrough after years of Israeli efforts to improve ties with African nations. 

Netanyahu said he met with General Abdel Fattah Burhan in Entebbe, Uganda, a meeting that was only made public afterward when the prime minister tweeted about it in Hebrew.

"We agreed to begin cooperation that will lead to normalisation of relations between the two countries," Netanyahu tweeted. "History!"

Netanyahu's office said the meeting came at the invitation of Uganda. 

It said Netanyahu "believes that Sudan is moving in a new and positive direction, and the prime minister expressed his views to the US Secretary of State [Mike Pompeo]".

That appeared to be a reference to Sudan's efforts to be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, a key step in rebuilding its economy following the uprising that toppled longtime strongman Omar al Bashir last year. 

Sudanese General Abdel Fattah Burhan, head of the military council, speaks during a military-backed rally, in Omdurman district, west of Khartoum, Sudan, Saturday, June 29, 2019.(AP)

Restoring ties with African nations

In recent years, Netanyahu has pushed to improve ties with African countries that have long had cool relations with Israel over the conflict with the Palestinians. 

Restoring diplomatic ties with Sudan – a member of the Arab League – will be seen in Israel as a major achievement. 

US allies Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries that have peace agreements with Israel.

It could also give Netanyahu a boost ahead of March 2 elections. He has portrayed himself as a world-class statesman who has developed close ties with world leaders as he has tried to keep the focus off his recent indictment on corruption charges.

Netanyahu arrived in Uganda on Monday, saying his country is "returning to Africa in a big way" and urging the East African country to open an embassy in Jerusalem. 

Before departing Israel, Netanyahu spoke of "very important diplomatic, economic and security ties that will yet be told about".

He said that at the end of his visit to the East African nation he hopes to "have very good news" for Israel. 

Bitter foes

The Israeli leader was welcomed by Uganda's prime minister at the international airport in Entebbe, where Netanyahu's brother Yonatan was fatally struck by a bullet as he led Israeli commandos in a daring mission to rescue hijacked Israeli passengers in 1976. 

Israel's success in the raid humiliated then-Ugandan President Idi Amin, under whose rule Israel closed its embassy in Uganda.

Netanyahu, who was accompanied by his wife Sara, held a meeting with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and other officials. 

In a news conference later on Monday, Netanyahu said he would open an embassy in Kampala, the Ugandan capital if Museveni established one in West Jerusalem. 

The Ugandan leader responded by saying his government is "studying" the matter.

Most countries have their embassies in Tel Aviv because they view the final status of Jerusalem as something that should be negotiated with the Palestinians. 

Museveni has repeatedly said Uganda supports a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue. During Netanyahu's trip to Uganda in 2016, Museveni urged both sides to live "side by side in two states ... in peace and with recognised borders."

The UAE mediation

The UAE had organised the meeting between Israeli premier and Sudan’s sovereign council head, according to an Israeli daily.

In its report published on Monday, The Times of Israel newspaper, quoted a “high-ranked” Sudanese military official who said that only a “small circle” of senior officials in Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were informed about the meeting. 

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as not authorised to speak to the media.

African support 

Israel has long courted African support. In exchange for its expertise in security and other fields, Israel wants African states to side with it at the UN General Assembly, which overwhelmingly recognised Palestine as a non-member observer state in 2012. 

Reports in Israel in recent years have suggested it might normalise diplomatic relations with several Muslim countries in Africa. 

Israel renewed diplomatic relations with Guinea in 2016. After Netanyahu visited Chad for a renewal of ties in 2019, it was reported that Israel was working to formalise ties with Sudan.