What comes next for Sudan is unclear. But Israel will likely benefit from this month’s military coup in Khartoum. Not seeking to necessarily alienate the anti-coup protestors by openly supporting the putschists, Israel is being prudent by not reacting publicly to the military takeover of the third Arab/Islamic country that normalized ties with the Jewish state last year.
However, Israel does not support democratization in the Arab world and is pleased to see the ouster of a Sudanese Prime Minister whom Tel Aviv saw as a stumbling block to stronger Israeli-Sudanese relations. With Sudan’s Deep State, which was always favorable to normalization and closely aligned with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), running the show, the Israelis can be more optimistic about long-term normalization of relations with Khartoum.
Israel does not support democratization in the Arab world and is pleased to see the ouster of Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok.
For roughly two years until the recent coup, there was a delicate equilibrium in Khartoum based on a power sharing agreement between the military and civilian components of Sudan’s transitional government. The military wing of the Transitional Sovereign Council (TSC) has supported normalizing relations with Israel. This was largely due to its interests in a rapprochement with Washington and its links to the UAE, the Arab state most influential in the process of normalizing Israeli-Sudanese relations.
The civilian wing, however, was far less enthusiastic about opening formalized ties with Tel Aviv. That said, within the context of the Trump administration’s political and financial extortion on Sudan that was tied to normalization, the civilian leadership also chose to go along with the decision to bring Khartoum into the Abraham Accords albeit reluctantly. Indeed, the Trump administration had made its removal of Sudan from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism contingent upon its normalization of relations with the Jewish state. With that new status, the country was promised economic aid and reintegration in the world’s financial system.
As Lazar Berman, The Times of Israel’s diplomatic reporter, put it, “The military leadership that has taken power is made up of the same officials who had been the driving force behind normalization with Israel, dragging along a reluctant civilian government that has now been deposed by the coup.”
One Israeli official who spoke to Israel Hayom was straightforward about how he sees his country’s stakes in Sudan’s latest coup. He indirectly criticized Washington’s reaction to the military’s takeover of Sudan while stating that Israel would be better off because of the coup. The Israeli official said that “while we understand why the US would like to see the democratization of Sudan, between the two Sudanese leaders, it is Burhan who is more inclined to bolster ties with the US and Israel.” He also added that “in light of the fact that the military is the stronger force in the country, and since Burhan is its commander in chief, the events of [October 25] increase the likelihood of stability in Sudan, which has critical importance in the region, and it increases the chances of stronger ties with the US, the West, and Israel in particular.”
Israel is no Friend of Arab Democracy
“Arabs may be better off under authoritarian rule — a core idea of the Emirati counterrevolutionary narrative of ‘authoritarian stability’”
In the grander picture, Israel is against any successful democratic revolution in the Arab world. A common view in Israel is that “Arabs may be better off under authoritarian rule — a core idea of the Emirati counterrevolutionary narrative of ‘authoritarian stability’,” as Dr. Andreas Krieg, an assistant professor at the Defense Studies Department of King’s College London, wrote last year. The extraordinary level of engagement between the UAE and Israel in matters of security, intelligence, and surveillance, plus geopolitical alignment on a host of regional files from Iran to Yemen and the Abraham Accords are unquestionable evidence of how Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi have, in the words of Dr. Krieg, “ideational synergies around the securitization of political Islam and a cynical stance towards the prospect of the Arab Spring bringing about stability in the Arab world.”
Indeed, as poll after poll confirm, the public in Arab countries is overwhelmingly opposed to normalization of relations with Israel because of its mistreatment of the Palestinians. It is sensible, therefore, for Israel to oppose Arab states being ruled by governments that are accountable to voters in a democratic system.
In a country like Sudan, where there is a vibrant civil society made up of labor unions, Arab nationalists, Marxists, communists, and Islamists who have pro-Palestinian positions, democracy could undermine the prospects for a long-term partnership between Khartoum and Tel Aviv. Clearly, militaristic authoritarianism in Khartoum, as opposed to democracy and pluralism, serves Israeli interests.
While many analysts and journalists, as well as US government officials, are busy suggesting that Israel will have moral qualms about working with an unelected and autocratic military regime in the Arab region, such arguments are either intentionally misleading or simply naïve. In reality, the coup will probably boost the prospects for long-term normalization of relations between Sudan and Israel. To eliminate any doubts, one can look to Egyptian-Israeli relations and examine the Jewish state’s embrace of the coup in 2013 that killed the Egyptian people’s attempt at democracy and empowered a very Israel-friendly regime in Cairo.