Belmont Club

Desert mystery

The NYT’s Lede reports that an airstrike by a “major power” took place in northeastern Sudan in January this year, somewhere inland of its harbor on the Red Sea, Port Sudan. Although speculation was that the “major power” was the US, subsequent reporting by the BBC suggested the attack was made by Israel to prevent arms from reaching Gaza.

An Egyptian newspaper, Al-Shurooq, first reported on Tuesday what Mr. Salim said at a news conference in Sudan — that a “major power bombed small trucks carrying arms” headed towards Sudan’s border with Egypt in January. The state-supported Iranian broadcaster Press TV seems to have the most complete account in English of the Egyptian newspaper’s article. …

On Thursday morning, Reuters reported that “two senior Sudanese politicians” said that “unidentified aircraft attacked a convoy of suspected arms smugglers as it drove through Sudan toward Egypt in January, killing almost everyone in the convoy.” Andrew Heavens, reporting from Khartoum for Reuters, added: “The politicians, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Reuters the strike took place in a remote area in east Sudan but did not say who carried it out.”

The BBC wrote that the attack had been directed against a possible shipment of missiles to Gaza that would have enabled a group, possibly Hamas, to reach targets deep inside Israel, thereby seriously widening the war.

Giving a speech in the coastal town of Herzliya, the outgoing prime minister said: “We operate in many places near and far, and carry out strikes in a manner that strengthens our deterrence.” The CBS television network said it had been told by American officials that a strike by Israeli planes in January had succeeded in preventing weapons from Sudan reaching Gaza. Mr Mabrook Mubarak Saleem said those killed in the air raid had been civilians from a number of African countries.

the assumption is that this was a serious target, our correspondent says, and that these were weapons that could have changed the game in the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants. They could have included surface to air missiles or perhaps missiles with a 70km range that would have enabled militants to hit Tel Aviv from Gaza, our correspondent adds.

Readers will recall that the Israeli campaign in Gaza was in full swing in January, the last month of the Bush Administration’s tenure. Given the geographical location of the attack, it is possible that the strike involved weapons which arrived by sea from a country to the east from the Gulf or the Indian Ocean. From there, the weapons weapons might have been loaded into trucks and sent north to Egypt for eventual smuggling across to Gaza. The missles could not have been bigger than was capable of being loaded in components, upon trucks. This arms smuggling speculation is supported by a recent dispatch from the Associated Press which reports the attack place near the Sudanese-Egyptian border. A link to a Google Map showing the area is here.

Sudanese officials said foreign warplanes launched two separate airstrikes last month on Sudan near its border with Egypt, targeting convoys packed with light weapons and African migrants trying to sneak across the frontier.

Just who was behind the strikes remains a mystery, but the U.S. and Israel immediately came under suspicion.

Mubarak Mabrook Saleem, Sudan’s State Minister for Transportation, told The Associated Press he believed American planes were behind the bombings about a week apart in early February and claimed hundreds were killed. A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed his account but said there were discrepancies on casualties. The U.S. denied any airstrike on Sudan.

Arab and U.S. media reports said Israel was behind the attacks because the convoys were smuggling weapons to Egypt destined for Gaza. The militant Hamas, which rules Gaza, smuggles weapons in through tunnels along the Egyptian border.

These reports suggest that the Gaza crisis was far more potentially serious than reported because a foreign power was willing to ship missiles to Hamas to widen the war against Israel regardless of the consequences. The Gaza ground operation would have been only one end of a two-ended operation to stop the missile attacks. It was but one part of a larger struggle whose outlines are now only becoming evident. But incident also raises the issue of what will happen if Clinton’s campaign to rebuild Gaza and open it to incoming traffic succeed, because it shows the issues involved are not local ones between Israel and Hamas, but between Israel and the masterminds of its proxy foes. The possible use of migrant convoys also suggests that the practice of using human shields as cover for belligerent activity is alive and well. Unless Hamas and the country to the East have changed their behavior, the diplomatic offensive can only mean another war in Gaza and perhaps elsewhere on the day when Hamas can freely import the weapons that were temporarily denied to it.

Update

The Jerusalem Post reports there were two strikes on the ground, one in January and another in February, plus a ship sunk at sea.  “Following unconfirmed reports that Israel or the US attacked a convoy of trucks carrying weapons headed for the Gaza Strip in Sudan, a new report by Sudanese sources cited an additional strike on a ship possibly making its way to Sudan from Iran.” There’s the “I” word again, and it’s not “Israel”.