Sudan: the new battlefield in Iran and Israel's covert conflict

Warships from Tehran dock in Port Sudan as tensions between the two Middle East powers escalate

Iranian warships have arrived in Port Sudan in an apparent show of support for the government in Khartoum, one week after it accused Israel of bombing an arms factory in the Sudanese capital.

Iran's state news agency confirmed yesterday that two vessels, a destroyer and a helicopter carrier have docked in Sudan's main port on the Red Sea and their commanders will be meeting Sudanese officials.

While Iran said the mission was related to anti-piracy efforts, the move represents a possible escalation of a proxy war between Iran and Israel that has been playing out in the conflict between the Sudans.

Israel has emerged as an influential military and commercial ally of South Sudan since its independence last year, while Iran has strengthened its links with the Khartoum regime.

A Sudanese military official said the naval visit was an "exchange of amicable relations" between the two nations. Meanwhile Iranian officials said the ships had been dispatched last month, prior to the arms factory explosion in which four people were killed.

Israel has been accused of sending eight fighter jets to destroy an arms factory in Khartoum last week, in a possible rehearsal for a strike on Iranian nuclear targets. The government in Israel has refused to confirm or deny the allegations, with Sudan saying it will report the country to the UN. Israel has previously referred to Sudan as a "dangerous terrorist state". Both Israel and the US have bombed targets inside Sudan.

Imagery released by the US monitoring group The Satellite Sentinel Project supported the Sudanese claims of an air strike. Pictures released by the group, which is traditionally critical of the regime in Khartoum, showed half a dozen large craters, measuring more than 50-feet across.

Images from the same site prior to the blast showed some 40 shipping containers prompting experts to speculate over what was being stored at the site.

An Israeli military expert told the Associated Press that it was likely that his country had identified an "imminent threat" at Yarmouk. Shlomo Brom, a retired Brigadier General said that the strike may have been aimed at destroying "a new category of weapons" due to be smuggled into Gaza. Such weapons could include short range missiles more advanced than rockets currently fired from the Strip or "something with air defence capability".

Security sources said the Yarmouk factory attack was a sophisticated operation aided by a Gulfstream Jet loaded with electronic warfare outside of Sudanese airspace which jammed the country's air defences. Fighter jets reportedly refuelled after flying south along the Red Sea to evade Egyptian air defences and then turned west to strike the factory.

Since Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, came to power in a coup backed by Islamists in 1989, the government in Tehran has seen the Arab-led government in Sudan as a useful ally in north-east Africa. According to Western security reports Iran has used Sudan's vast territory as a corridor for weapons to be smuggled into Egypt and on to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group who govern the Gaza Strip.

Israel has previously bombed what it claimed were Iranian convoys in this area three years ago. Katherine Zimmerman, an analyst with Critical Threats, said the Yarmouk attack could be another strike against weapons smuggling networks but "alternatively, it might be an early indicator of increasing likelihood of conflict between Israel and Iran."

In this scenario last week's bombing may have been a pre-emptive strike to deny arms to Iran's allies such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Both of these groups would be expected to strike Israeli targets in the event of any future attack on Iran's nuclear programme.

The impact of the increasing confrontation between Iran and Israel over the former's nuclear ambitions could further destabilise the conflict between the Sudans. The former civil war foes returned to brink of an all-out war earlier this year and recently signed a peace deal that some observers regards as a temporary truce. No clear border has been demarcated between the two countries and both governments accuse the others of backing armed rebels inside their respective territories.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician / Helpdesk - 2nd / 3rd Line

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Application Developer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in the centre of Glasgow,...

Recruitment Genius: Production Engineering Manager

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Joinery Shop Foreman

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Joinery Shop Foreman is required to join a p...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada