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Thursday, October 25, 2012

So what happened in Sudan? And is there an Iranian nuclear link?

Lots of noise but very few hard facts:
Sudan claims this is an unexploded Israeli rocket, doesn't seem likely.
Sudan said on Wednesday that an Israeli air strike had caused the huge explosion and fire at an arms factory in Khartoum that killed two people, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak declined to comment.

Sudan, which analysts say is used as an arms-smuggling route to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip via neighboring Egypt, has blamed Israel for such strikes in the past, but Israel has either refused to comment or said it neither admitted or denied involvement.

Asked by Israel's Channel Two News about Sudan's accusations, Barak said: "There is nothing I can say about this subject."

A huge fire broke out late on Tuesday at the Yarmouk arms factory in the south of the capital which was rocked by several explosions, witnesses said. Firefighters took more than two hours to extinguish the fire at Sudan's main factory for ammunition and small arms.

"Four military planes attacked the Yarmouk plant ... We believe that Israel is behind it," Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman told reporters, adding that the planes appeared to approach the site from the east.

"Sudan reserves the right to strike back at Israel," he said, adding that two citizens had been killed and the plant had been partially destroyed. Another person was seriously injured, he said.
JE Dyer has some analysis:
Media reporting has suggested for more than a decade that Iran set up an arms factory in Sudan in the 1990s. (US intelligence suspected a Sudanese factory of producing weaponizable chemical agents in the ‘90s, and the Sudanese government of complicity in supplying al Qaeda. This led to a Tomahawk missile attack on the factory by Bill Clinton after the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Iran was not implicated by US intelligence in this installation.) Tehran is Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir’s chief foreign patron – well suited to his penchant for atrocities against his non-Muslim population – and of course is also the main supplier of arms to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Members of the Sudanese opposition have told reporters the arms factory that was hit was Iranian-sponsored. This is very probable, and it is equally probable that the attack was, in fact, conducted by the IAF. Sudan to Egypt to Gaza is a known arms route, and during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, when Israeli forces were going after Hamas in the wake of more than 4400 rocket attacks from Gaza up through December 2008, two arms convoys intended for Hamas were attacked on the roads through northern Sudan. Another convoy for Hamas was reportedly attacked in Sudan in December of 2011. (A peculiar report from early 2009 also suggested that a ship – possibly carrying arms – had been sunk in or near a Sudanese port. While fun to analyze, the report could not be considered definitive.)

Cutting off the flow of Iranian arms to Hamas is clearly a national security interest for Israel. The 24 October attack may or may not have been launched “because of” the rocket barrage from Hamas; it was certainly planned much earlier, but was probably executable on short notice, pending the weather conditions. Perhaps a more reliable construction to put on the Yarmouk attack, however, is that Israel sees a need to accomplish something more definitive than interdicting convoys. The time has come to administer a setback from which Hamas – and Iran – can’t recover quickly.

Another consideration for Israel may be that the window for unopposed action in Sudan might close in the not-too-distant future. Getting strike-fighters into Sudan means routing them over the Red Sea and keeping an airborne tanker aloft there, with its own fighter protection. Saudi Arabia and Jordan have the means to know the IAF aircraft are there, but they aren’t likely to interfere with Israeli attacks on Iranian arms facilities or arms bound for Hamas.

Egypt, however, also has the means to know the IAF aircraft are operating – and Egypt’s posture could well be changing. Mohammed Morsi is not a naïve target for an Iranian charm offensive, but for his own reasons – Islamist ideology and his designs on Jerusalem – he will reach the point at which he will not be willing to stand by quietly for Israeli operations in Sudan.
Debka, always entertaining but only sometimes accurate, claims:
Complex of military plants near Khartoum, whicht was bombed five minutes after midnight Wednesday, Oct. 24, by four fighter-bombers, recently went into manufacturing Iranian ballistic surface-to-surface Shehab missiles under license from Tehran, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources disclose. Western intelligence sources have not revealed what types of Shehab were being turned out in Sudan but they believe the Yarmouk’s output was intended to serve as Tehran’s strategic reserve stock in case Iran’s ballistic arsenal was hit by Israeli bombers.
Haaretz quotes Al Arabiya:
An Islamist responsible for supplying weapons to Hamas was apparently among the two people killed in a missile strike near the main port city of Sudan this week, the Al-Arabiya news network reported on Wednesday citing various sources.
And in a separate analysis:
Opposition sources in Sudan claim that the arms factory bombed overnight Tuesday in south Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, belongs to Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

..What was not said by the Sudanese authorities, who provided a plethora of confusing and conflicting reports (even regarding the number of casualties), was information regarding the factory itself. In recent years, several reports published in the Arab media said that Iran's Revolutionary Guard built weapons manufacturing plants together with the Sudanese government.

However, their military cooperation does not end with the establishment of one military plant, and even senior Sudanese officials have not denied in the past that Iran has military factories on their land.

In fact, according to foreign reports, the arms factories that Iran built in Sudan were meant to arm Hamas.
But here is one wrinkle I was not aware of, from Sudan Tribune:
Sudanese authorities shut down the opposition-affiliated Ray Al-Sha’b newspaper in May 2010 after it published a report talking about the construction of an Iranian weapon factory in Sudan as part of military cooperation between the two countries to produce nuclear weapons.

Could some of the components of a nuclear weapon or delivery system have been outsourced to this Sudanese factory? It appears to me that attacking a factory is, politically, a much riskier move by Israel than attacking arms convoys, and risking the lives of civilians nearby is also an unlikely move by Israel to temporarily disrupt Hamas arms smuggling. But if a major component of a nuclear weapon or nuclear-capable missile is being built there - away from inspectors and sanctions - then such an operation becomes well worthwhile.

It is only speculation. But then again, so is everything else.