October 25, 2012

Sudanese Militants Watch Israeli Bombing From Mali

The Sudanese government has issued a defiant response to the combustable events of Wednesday morning.

Citing eyewitnesses and gathered evidence, Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman informed reporters that his government holds Israel responsible for a midnight explosion at the Yarmouk industrial complex. The resulting fire in the munitions factory, located south of Khartoum, sent exploding rounds into nearby neighborhoods and triggered panic amongst the locals. This collateral damage has attracted criticism over the factory's proximity to residential housing, adding to the government's urgent need for a scapegoat.

"They think that this factory supplies our army, and by attacking it, they are going to make it easier for the rebels to take over," Bilal told Al Jazeera. "Plus, they have accused us, [saying] that these arms would find their way to Hamas. These are allegations which are not correct."

He later clarified, "We are now certain that this flagrant attack was authorized by the same state of Israel. The main purpose is to frustrate our military capabilities and stop any development there and ultimately weaken our national sovereignty."

For now Khartoum has settled on a political offensive to mute its domestic concerns. Sudanese officials immediately turned to the Arab League for support and is keeping the bloc notified of their state's investigation. The accumulating evidence will then be submitted to the United Nations, where Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman is pushing the Security Council to "condemn this attack because it is a blatant violation of the concepts of peace and security." Western capitals won't entertain the thought, of course, and many observers will point to the purchasers of Sudanese arms as the true roots of conflict. However Khartoum won't be daunted by its unpopular motions, as Israel has done no favor to its own popularity and must now confront a Sudanese response in the UN.

At the same time, this political action could form the basis of Khartoum's national argument for legitimate military action. Stopping any illegal arms shipments is unrealistic; targeting Israel seems unlikely as well, but jingoism is a standard tool for governments looking to cast their populations' eyes elsewhere. Multiple precedents don't hurt Khartoum's national and regional case either.

"We have to reply," Bilal told Al Jazeera. "This is too much. This is the fourth time they have done this. We have our right to attack the interests of Israel wherever - this is a legal target for us from now on... They killed our people. these lives are not cheap - and we know how to retaliate."

"Israel is a country of injustice that needs to be deterred," Vice President Ali Osman Tah later declared at the side of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. "This attack only strengthens our firmness."

Bilal claims that Khartoum isn't planning "direct attacks" on Israeli interests, as Iran is accused of carrying out, but added, "We reserve the right to react at a place and time we choose." The government could order a proxy attack through one of Gaza's extremist factions, except this process is below the level of an official response. The only possible deterrent is an air-strike or covert operation of similar proportion, conducted on a target that can be relatively justified to the international community. How exactly Khartoum decides to send its message remains to be seen.

What The Trench can't help noticing is the timing of Wednesday's bombing and last weekend's reports of a Sudanese infusion for northern Mali's Islamist network. Anywhere between dozens and 355 Sudanese recruits supposedly entered the country over the last five days, depending on the source of information, but all of them share a hatred for Israel and its Western allies. Khartoum doesn't need to arm Hamas or export its own jihadists for training - those seeking a holy war against the West and "infidel" African governments will find their own way to Mali. A distinct cause-and-effect influences the interaction between Sudanese-Israeli hostilities and Sudanese jihadism. Those Sudanese now training in Mali are monitoring Wednesday's incident with equal parts anger and determination, and more are likely to follow as Western and African capitals prepare their intervention.

The Obama administration isn't in the business censuring Israel's government, but a private message of "concern" would not be surprising in light of northern Mali's crisis.

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