Israel and Sudan have recently agreed to normalize their ties after decades of animosity, in a move that reflects a major geopolitical change in the Middle East that benefits Israel, experts said.
Sudan became the third Arab state to normalize ties with Israel in the past two months, ending years of deep isolation of the Jewish state in the volatile region. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain already signed peace deals with Israel at a ceremony in the White House on Sept. 15.
The agreements were all brokered by the United States, led by President Donald Trump, who has been bent on creating a regional alliance against Iran, its arch foe in the region.
“We are changing the map of the Middle East,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the deal with Sudan at a press conference in Jerusalem on Saturday.
Netanyahu said a delegation from Israel would travel to Sudan later this week to finalize the agreement.
Experts said that the rapprochement between Israel and Sudan represents a major geopolitical shift in the region. While there has been no direct conflict with Israel, Sudan had been aligned with Iran, also Israel’s arch enemy, for decades.
“Sudan is abandoning the resistance alliance led by Iran,” said Gil Feiler of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
“It will no longer be able to transfer weapons to Hamas (in Palestine) or cooperate with Hezbollah (in Lebanon). Sudan served as a tunnel for these organizations,” Feiler noted.
Israel in the past reportedly conducted several airstrikes in Sudan against weapons convoys for Iranian-sponsored militant organizations operating against it.
“For Israel, the ability to cooperate with countries bordering Iran can serve as a major statement to Iran that Israel’s abilities to respond to threats are wider and more diverse than in the past,” said Ido Zelkovitz, head of the Middle East Studies Program at the Yezreel Valley Academic College and a policy fellow at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.
“This will be a major deterrent to Iran,” Zelkovitz added.
After the 1967 war between Israel and several Arab countries, Sudan hosted an Arab League summit in its capital Khartoum, during which the Arab states adopted the Khartoum Resolution, known as “The Three No’s” policy: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel.
“Sudan has essentially changed sides,” Feiler said. “This has great geo-strategic importance.”
The Israel-Sudan peace deal also reflects a significant change in the status of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the context of the larger Arab-Israel confrontation.
For years, it has been believed that peace between Israel and Arab countries would only come after a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But this paradigm has gradually shifted and culminated in the recent peace agreements reached by Israel with some of the Arab countries.
After the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, more Arab countries are expected to shift their position toward Israel due to what they call the increasing threat from Iran.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians, who have condemned the recent peace agreements, feel they have been increasingly sidelined by the U.S.-brokered Israel-Arab rapprochement,
“No one has the right to speak in the name of the Palestinian people and in the name of the Palestinian cause,” said a statement released by the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday after the Israel-Sudan deal was announced.
The Arab countries that have recently forged ties with Israel have put their interests before the Palestinian cause, but Israel has also made a policy shift, experts said.
“Netanyahu is telling the Palestinians they can no longer corner Israel and impose solutions,” Zelkovitz said. “There is now less pressure on Israel and threats of boycotts are increasingly empty.”
There are hopes that the Palestinians and Israelis will be encouraged by the regional geopolitical change to renew the peace talks, which have stalled since 2014. For this to happen, regardless of broader regional developments, the leaders of both sides need to want to make peace, the experts said.