By David L. Phillips and Ahmed Hussain Adam
January 10, 2013 - Israeli warplanes attacked Sudan’s military-industrial complex at al-Yarmouk on October 23, 2012. While the raid set-back Sudan’s weapons production – including delivery by Sudan of Iranian Fajr-5 missiles to Hamas in Gaza — additional measures are needed to prevent Sudan’s export of deadly weapons to Iranian proxies in the region. Interdiction would have the added benefit of ratcheting-up pressure on Omar al-Bashir’s criminal regime.
Sudan and Iran are ideologically united. The leadership of both countries is enamored with authoritarianism, bound by their hatred of the United States and its allies. Bashir is inspired by Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Not only has Bashir adopted Iran’s brutal tactics suppressing political opponents and domestic dissent. He has also franchised Iran’s support for extremism and exporting his Sudanese Islamic revolution.
Both countries also derive practical benefits from their cooperation. In exchange for military and economic assistance, Bashir allows Sudan to be used as a launch point for Iranian military and intelligence operations. With Syria nearing collapse, Iran is diversifying its portfolio of partners in terror.
Cooperation between Sudan and Iran dates back more than two decades. After Bashir seized power in 1989, Iran provided weapons to help him consolidate power. It also provided foreign currency to keep his regime afloat. In 1992, Iran’s President Hashemi Rafsanjani visited Sudan and signed military cooperation protocols on intelligence sharing, arms transfers, and military training. Iran expanded security and military cooperation with a new round of protocols in March 2007.
A new agreement the following year allowed IRGC to deepen its presence, giving it control of military training camps in Sudan. The IRGC currently runs special military training camps in the Kasala State in Eastern Sudan. In parallel, the Iranian Export Development Fund has invested in economic and infrastructure projects in the provinces of Kasala, Gadarif and Red Sea. Though these infrastructure projects were touted as support for the local population, they were actually intended to facilitate the transfer of weapons to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other extremists in the region.
In 2012, Iran established a military and intelligence base on the Red Sea in Sudan. In collusion with Iran, Sudan is taking steps to tighten control of shipping lanes for the Red Sea. In the closing months of December 2012, Iranian warships – Kharg and Admiral Naghdi — docked in Port Sudan. It was the second time in 5 weeks that a pair of Iranian warships came into port.
After the independence of South Sudan in July 2011, and the establishment of Juba’s diplomatic relation with Israel, the Sudan-Iran terror alliance intensified activities targeting pro-Western governments in the region. Sudan is as an intelligence center monitoring U.S. and Israeli engagement in East Africa, especially Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan.
Iran’s support has never benefited the Sudanese people. To the contrary: its military assistance provides Bashir with deadly weapons that he uses against his own citizens. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Sudan in 2011, providing drones that were used in South Kurdofan.
Bashir’s destructive adventures risk embroiling Sudan in conflict between regional and international powers. Not only is the Sudan-Iran terror axis a concern to Israel and United States. Resulting radicalization and instability is also a risk to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States.
The U.S. should monitor the movement of missiles from Sudan to the Egyptian border. A drone air strike interdicting the transport of missiles would be a shot across the bow of the Sudan-Iran terror axis. It would also set a precedent of diplomacy backed by force, emboldening Bashir’s opponents and impacting the situation in Darfur, South Kurdofan and Blue Nile. Denying Iran a strategic hub in Sudan has benefits for Sudan, Africa, and beyond.
David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University and Ahmed Hussain Adam is a Visiting Scholar.