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December 27, 2011 4:45 pm

South Sudan, Israel Establish Strong Alliance

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the Government of Southern Sudan. Photo: Jenny Rockett.

July 12, 2011, barely two weeks after it had declared its independence from the radical Islamic state of Sudan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Israel’s assistance to the new nation of South Sudan “in any way.”  The Israeli Foreign Ministry announced the establishment of “full diplomatic relations with the fledgling state, now the 54th member of the African Union. Israeli flags were fully visible during the celebration of independence, a gesture of gratitude for Israel’s support during South Sudan’s long struggle for freedom, and a tribute attesting to the warmth of the two nations’ relationship. In mid December, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir was welcomed to Israel, meeting with government leaders, led by the Prime Minister.

President Kiir’s trip to Israel, one of the South Sudanese official’s first, made a strong statement. Following a visit to Yad Vashem with President Shimon Peres, Kiir said “I am very moved to be in Israel and to walk on the soil of the Promised Land. With me are all South Sudanese people…Israel has always supported the South Sudanese people. Without you, we would not have arisen. You struggled alongside us in order to allow the establishment of South Sudan and we are interested in learning from your experience.” Peres responded saying “Israel has supported, and will continue to support, your country in all areas in order to strengthen and develop it,” calling South Sudan’s independence “a milestone” in the history of the Middle East. Christian and traditional African beliefs are dominant among South Sudanese.

In July, MK Danny Danon paid an official visit to South Sudan. He was assured then that South Sudan will maintain diplomatic relations with Israel despite Arab and Palestinian pressure. Quoted in Israeli newspapers, Kiir told Danon “I see Israeli embassies in Jordan and Egypt, and South Sudan is not an Arab state.” During that meeting, Daniel Akot, the Deputy Parliament Speaker, said “Israel is like a big brother to South Sudan.”

Neighboring Sudan continues to exhibit great hostility towards Israel – Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, former Sudanese Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition National Umma Party (NUP) called the visit of President Salva Kiir “devilish.” He said the visit is “wrong and whoever thought about it is devilish and a traitor and let us down [we] who are keen on close relations between the states of north and south”. Speaking to the Sudan Tribune, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti said Kiir’s visit “is just a revelation of what was happening in secrecy between Tel Aviv and Sudan’s former southern rebels.” His ministry’s spokesman, Al-Obaid Marawih, had warned “that the visit poses a threat to Sudan’s national security.”

In an exclusive interview with South Sudan’s Deputy Head of Mission Deng Deng Nhial, Mr. Nhial responded to al-Mahdi’s comment, telling the Algemeiner that “after fifty years of warfare, South Sudan has become a free and independent country that will embrace democracy.” He continued, saying it is in his “country’s interest to establish friendly relations with any country that wants to be our friend. We have joined the community of nations.”

His comments were mirrored by those of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said South Sudan’s partnership with Israel is founded on “cooperation between the two countries… based on solid foundations, relations of equality and mutual respect.”

Salva Kiir, President of the newly established country, acknowledged the recognition by Israel in Juba, the country’s capital. According to the Jerusalem Post, he has met with Jacques Revach, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Africa division, and Dan Shacham, Israel’s nonresident ambassador to a number of African countries. Speaking to Al Hurra television, in Arabic, (translated by the BBC) South Sudanese Vice President, Riek Machar, said “we will have relations with all the Arab and Muslim countries and even with Israel…As a matter of fact, we look forward to playing a role in solving the existing issues in the Arab world, even the issues between Israel and the Arab countries.”

With an area of some 644,000 square kilometers, a small population of about 10 million and rich national resources, “it is important that South Sudan develop its capacity and continue the building of institutions,” said Deputy Director of South Sudanese Mission Deng Deng Nhial. He noted that the country has established “Vision 2040.” “To meet the challenge, technical assistance in the building of institutions is very, very important so that government will be able to deliver services for the people in a stable, prosperous country.”

Still at issue between the two countries is the problem of illegal immigration. Thousands of Sudanese, many from the area now incorporated as South Sudan, have entered Israel illegally during the last decade. Dialogue concerning the repatriation of many of these immigrants is likely to be on the diplomatic agenda.

Discussion of training for Sudanese refugees already in Israel, and extensive economic and technical assistance to be provided to ease their way home, were underway during Danon’s trip in July. The Minister said then that the “luck of the Sudanese people has improved with the establishment of a new, civilized state.” He stressed the need to help South Sudanese refugees “return safely to their new state.”
“Israel’s technological wealth and South Sudan’s wealth of natural resources are a sure recipe for prosperity in both states,” he said. The Sudanese government has already agreed to the return of 10,000 refugees.

Illegal immigration is a significant problem for the Jewish State. Border Authority Director-General Amnon Ben-Ami estimates that there are over 16,000 refugees from Sudan alone in Israel.  Prime Minister Netanyahu called illegal immigration “a nationwide plague” saying “there is no obligation to take in illegal infiltrators.” (A fence along the Egyptian border, scheduled for completion by October 2012, is under construction)

At the conclusion of President Kiir’s visit, an announcement was made of a study of the construction of a “refugee city” to be built in South Sudan – with Israeli assistance. Tomar Avital, writing in the Israeli magazine Calcalist, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “senior ministers” had expressed support for “the construction of a massive city-like facility” to which Sudanese refugees to their country would be repatriated.  Interior Minister Eli Yishai confirmed that “negotiations were being held with officials of the African country,” and that he “would pledge funding from his ministry’s budget for each refugee returned.” Refugees already returned to Sudan, have been given “a $500 adjustment payment”. There has been no confirmation by The Foreign Ministry.

As relations are normalized with the newly independent South Sudan, Israel has had to take measures to protect its security, even in “out-of-border” operations when required. Reports in the Sudanese media, recently restated by the BBC, say that the Israeli Air Force attacked convoys which originated in Sudan. The cargo of the two convoys was believed to be Iranian weapons slated for Gaza. Officially, there has been no response from Israel. The Sudanese army has denied this attack but its foreign minister has blamed Israel for a bombing attack on a car near the Port Sudan.

Israel believes weapons are being smuggled through the region to Gaza. BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus called the strike “one more reminder of the shadowy war that is being waged along Sudan’s Red Sea coast.” which “pits the Israeli military against well-organized arms smugglers seeking to get weaponry into the Gaza Strip.”

There has been no comment from Israel.

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