Normalizing Relations with Sudan
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced after meeting Sudanese military ruler Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Khartoum Thursday, "We agreed to sign a peace agreement between Sudan and Israel." An Israeli Foreign Ministry statement disclosed, "With the consent of the US, the parties finalized the text of the agreement. The signing ceremony is expected to take place after the transfer of power in Sudan to a civilian gov. that will be established as part of the ongoing transition process." Sudan's governing Transitional Sovereignty Council reported al-Burhan and Cohen discussed "strengthening prospects for joint cooperation between Khartoum and Tel Aviv in the fields of agriculture, energy, health, water and education [in addition to] security and military fields."
Israeli celebration is premature. Gen. al-Burhan came to power in April 2019 when the military ousted long-serving dictator Omar al-Bashir following months of pro-democracy protests. Facing ongoing demonstrations, Gen. al-Burhan agreed to a military-civilian coalition government that would prepare for free elections in 2022. However, in October 2021, al-Burhan launched a military coup and employed deadly force against anti-coup protestors. As the anti-regime death toll grew, al-Burhan promised to hold elections in July 2023.
This track record makes one question whether Gen. al-Burhan will actually permit a democratic transition. Secondly, three Sudanese military officials anonymously informed AP earlier Thursday that full normalization of ties would not occur anytime soon while Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the military junta's second-in-command, claimed no knowledge of the Israeli delegation's visit. Despite his responsibility for some of the worst human rights abuses committed by the al-Bashir and al-Burhan regimes, Dagalo has recently tried to ingratiate himself with Sudan's pro-democracy movement, which opposes normalizing ties with Israel. Sudan's coalition government did not join the Abraham Accords in 2020 because the civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, objected.
Chad Opens Embassy in Israel
Chadian President Mahamat Idriss Deby visited Ramat Gan Thursday to open his country's first embassy in Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who renewed diplomatic ties with Chad in 2019, also attended the ceremony. Israel cultivated friendly relations with Chad in the 1960s, providing advisors in the fields of agriculture, printing, and youth work. Soviet and Arab pressure persuaded most Sub-Saharan African countries to sever diplomatic ties with Israel in the early 1970s. Niger and Mali are the only Sub-Saharan countries who have not yet restored diplomatic relations with Israel.
Isfahan Plant Attack
Iran's UN ambassador, Amir Saeid Iravani, sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Security Council President Vanessa Frazier blaming Israel for the January 28 attack on an Isfahan military facility. The letter states that "an attempt was made to launch a terrorist attack against a workshop complex of the Iranian Defense Ministry in the city of Isfahan using three Micro Aerial Vehicles" and "early investigations suggest that the Israeli regime was responsible." Iran's defense ministry claimed the facility's air defenses thwarted the attack, which only caused minor damage to the facility's roof.
While Iran's official IRNA news agency called the facility "an ammunition manufacturing plant," Israel's Channel 12 reported it is a factory producing Shahed-136 drones. Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, on the other hand, tweeted that sources with direct knowledge of the attack stated the target was "connected to Iran's missile program" and "4 different areas in the building were accurately targeted & the goal was achieved."
Azerbaijan Arrests Iranian Agents
Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry arrested 39 people for sabotage and propaganda activities on behalf of Iranian intelligence. The same day, Azerbaijan's parliament dissolved its working group on inter-parliamentary relations with Iran.
Baku-Tehran relations have deteriorated rapidly over the past week. Azerbaijan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tuesday warned against nonessential travel to Iran in response to an Iranian gunman last Friday murdering the head of the embassy's security service and wounding two guards. The travel warning described the shooting as a "terrorist attack against the diplomatic mission of our country."
Iran denies the attack was politically motivated. Mohammad Shahriari, head of Tehran's Criminal Prosecutor's Office, claims the arrested suspect believed the Azerbaijani embassy was holding his wife against her will. However, Azerbaijan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement claiming a "recent anti-Azerbaijani campaign... in Iran has encouraged such attacks against our diplomatic mission."
Admitting Sweden and Finland to NATO
A bipartisan group of 29 senators sent President Biden a letter Thursday urging him to delay selling F-16 fighter jets to Turkey until it agrees to stop blocking Sweden and Finland from joining NATO. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday informed members of parliament from his Justice and Development Party that he supports Finland's NATO application, but not Sweden's. Finland and Sweden officially applied to join NATO last May in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Ankara initially conditioned their accession on removing barriers to arms sales to Turkey as well as extraditing alleged Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists and members of the Gulen Movement, which Turkey accuses of masterminding the failed 2016 military coup.
By January 2023, Sweden and Finland satisfied all their commitments under a June 2022 agreement with Turkey to fast-track their NATO accession. When fringe Danish-Swedish political activist Rasmus Paludan burned a Quran outside Turkey's Stockholm embassy on January 21, Ankara used it as excuse to repudiate the June agreement. Erdogan said on Wednesday, "Sweden should not bother to try at this point. We will not say 'yes' to their NATO application as long as they allow burning of the Quran." Finland reiterated Wednesday that it rejects decoupling its NATO membership bid from Sweden's.
Biden Hosts King Abdullah
President Biden and King Abdullah II discussed in a private meeting Thursday how to reduce tensions in the West Bank. A White House readout reiterated Biden's "strong support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and recognized the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan's crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, citing the critical need to preserve the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount."
The West Bank has seen a sharp increase in violence over the past year. Israeli forces killed 146 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem last year, the largest number since 2004, while Palestinians killed 17 Israeli civilians. Many Palestinian casualties died during Israeli military raids in Nablus and Jenin after Palestinian Authority security forces lost control of much of the northern West Bank to new militant groups, including the Lion's Den.
The violence continued escalating in 2023. Nine Palestinians died in a January 26 IDF raid in Jenin attempting to foil an imminent attack by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Then, a Palestinian gunman killed seven Israelis outside a Jerusalem synagogue the following night.
Pierre Duquesne, the French diplomat charged with coordinating international aid for Lebanon, lambasted Lebanon's government Friday for glacial progress in implementing reforms necessary to unlock a $3 billion IMF bailout. Restructuring the banking sector, which long engaged in balance sheet inflation to protect their equity, is a central condition for IMF assistance.
Lebanon's central bank adopted Wednesday a new official exchange rate of £L15,000 per US$1, a minor reform aimed at placating the IMF. Banque du Liban officially maintained a £L1,507.5 per US$1 peg from 1997, but the blackmarket exchange rate began diverging from the official one at the liquidity crisis's outset in the summer of 2019. Most Lebanese will be unaffected by the change because the current blackmarket exchange rate is approximately £L57,000 per US$1. It will primarily affect Lebanese pound-denominated equity in Lebanese commercial banks.