Israel’s (outgoing) prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has pretty much confirmed the news — first reported by CBS yesterday — that Israel bombed a convoy of arms dealers in Sudan in January to destroy a reported shipment of weapons from Iran to Hamas.”Israel hits every place it can in order to stop terror, near and far,” said Olmert.
An analysis from Amos Harel in Haaretz says that Israel’s concern was that Iran might be sending advanced missiles to Hamas:
A reasonable assumption would be that Iran sought to provide Hamas with Fajr missiles, whose deployment in Gaza would constitute what the IDF terms as “a weapon that shifts the balance.” During the Gaza lull, Hamas smuggled Katyusha rockets with an increased range from 20 kilometers to 40 kilometers. If it successfully managed to obtain Fajrs, Hamas could have placed Tel Aviv within missile range, which is exactly the coup it has sought in an effort to create the impression of a victory over Israel.
I’m not sure if that is a “reasonable assumption” or not, though it isn’t outlandish. But the raid, which reportedly killed between 30 and 40 people and destroyed 17 trucks, is a big deal, even though it occurred months ago, and it could severely destabilize Sudan, inflame relations between Arab countries, Iran, and the United States, and set the stage for a response by Iran.
As Reuters reports:
Any public confirmation of a foreign attack would have a major impact in Sudan, where relations with the West are already tense following the International Criminal Court’s decision this month to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of Darfur war crimes.
Bashir, of Sudan, was in Cairo yesterday meeting Egypt’s President Mubarak. Sudan has also confirmed that the attack took place.
That same report, from the Times of London, quotes an Israeli source suggesting that US intelligence cooperated with Israel in planning the attack:
Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a former Israeli air force chief, told [Israeli] army radio that the reported Sudan raid showed that it was still too early to draw up a final assessment of the offensive in Gaza.
“One of the essential elements of this operation was the strengthening of co-operation, particularly with the United States, to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas,” he said.
And the scope of Israel’s operations may have been bigger:
In recent weeks, the outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has alluded to a series of “major operations” carried out during his term of office.
In another unexplained incident, warplanes bombed five fishing boats off Sudan’s Red Sea coast on January 16, wounding 25 people, Sudanese security sources told AFP.