Though it might seem far from Jerusalem, a border battle in Africa, some analysts warn, is the site of a proxy war being waged between Israel and Iran.
Middle East analyst Joseph Puder explains the boundary area between Sudan and the recently formed South Sudan has become a battleground for Jerusalem and Tehran to quietly exchange blows.
“Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, eager to win over the Sunni-Arab world, has been more than happy to comply and provide Khartoum with arms, ideology and strengthened economic ties, including oil exploration,” Puder writes.
“For Tehran, Bashir’s Sudan is a major Shiite Islam success story,” Puder writes. “Sudan is both an Arab and Sunni-Muslim [nation] previously allied with the West (under President Jafaar Numeiri). Omar Bashir transformed Sudan into an Islamic theocracy allied with Iran and turned it into a base of operations for Tehran in Africa and the Middle East (supplying arms to Hamas in Gaza through Sudan).”
Meanwhile, a former CIA station chief who asked not to be named says Israel is also invested in the region, creating a possible scenario in Sudan that pits Islam versus the West.
“The Muslim countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Iran are indeed providing financial and military support to Bashir’s regime,” the CIA station chief said. “[And while] the West is essentially doing ‘lip service’ to the newly independent South Sudan, the only nation that is putting action behind its words is Israel.”
The Times of Israel reported earlier this year that South Sudan looks to Israel as a “role model.”
“South Sudan’s fondness for Israel extends to the diplomatic arena,” the Times of Israel report stated, “where the two countries have been building strategic ties in a relationship that long preceded the founding of South Sudan last July.”
“They see in us kind of a role model in how a small nation surrounded by enemies can survive and prosper, and they would like to imitate that,” said incoming Israeli Ambassador to South Sudan Haim Koren, according to the Times.
American Enterprise Institute Middle East analyst Michael Rubin pointed out that Ahmadinehad has a vested interest in pestering Israel wherever possible.
“His interest is to muck things up where he can,” Rubin said. “He does similarly in Senegal and in St. Vincent.”
Yet Rubin suggested Israel’s most significant long-term strategic security is elsewhere.
“They (Iran and Israel) may be on opposite sides (with Sudan and South Sudan), but Egypt, Syria, Lebanon would be what counts,” Rubin said.
“What happens in Southern Sudan isn’t of existential interest to Israel; what happens in southern Lebanon is,” Rubin said.
Rubin adds that he doesn’t believe Egypt and Syria have much of an interest in al-Bashir or South Sudan. Yet, some type of conflict is still possible.
“Even if they (Egypt and Syria) fall on other sides, it will be a side show. Unfortunately, a very brutal side show,” Rubin said.
Rubin believes ultimately the biggest player in the region may be China, and where they invest their money because of commercial interests.
Christian Solidarity International, USA President John Eibner, however, says while the proxy battle scenario is possible, the problem is in Khartoum’s side of the equation. Eibner doesn’t think al-Bashir would risk associating with Shia Muslims.
“The analysis does not address Sudan’s relations with the rest of the Sunni world, or its intelligence-sharing arrangements with Washington,” Eibner said. “It is hard to believe that the latter does not also help America’s allies, including Israel.
“By focusing exclusively on the relationships between Iran and Sudan, without putting it in the broader context, it is possible to overstate the case,” Eibner said. “If Bashir were to forge a strong alliance with Shia Iran, he would end up in the same boat as Assad in Syria, with the United States and the Sunni Arab world actively seeking his overthrow.”
Still, Rubin says the Sudan scenario is worth watching.
“I’d keep an eye on what is going on between the Middle East and the Sudans,” Rubin said.