Sudan may have joined the Saudi-led fight against Iran-backed proxies in Yemen last month, but it also may still be cooperating with Iran to arm the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Multiple Arab media outlets reported an explosion in an area west of Khartoum on Tuesday night. By Wednesday, the Sudanese military claimed it had shot down an Israeli drone carrying two missiles.
The Israelis have neither confirmed nor denied. However, the Israelis have historically targeted weapons in Sudan bound for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
This was the case in 2012, when Israeli jet fighters struck the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Yarmouk facility in Khartoum housing advanced Fajr-5 rockets. Israeli officials denied any knowledge of that raid. But weeks later, war erupted and Israel struck dozens of sites in Gaza believed to be housing the missiles that the air strike had missed.
The Yarmouk raid was not an isolated incident. In 2009, the Israelis reportedly targeted Iranian weapons shipments in Sudan destined for Hamas, conducting a strike on a large truck convoy. Another strike in 2011 incinerated a car carrying two men believed to be involved in the Iran-Hamas weapons pipeline. Just last year, Israeli commandos boarded the Klos-C in the Red Sea, seizing a massive arms shipment from Iran destined for Sudan.
Sudan has a history of strong military ties with Tehran. The Iranian regime has been a key sponsor of Khartoum's terrorism infrastructure since Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's 1989 coup d'état. In the early 1990s, Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani plied Khartoum with cash and sent military advisors to help bolster its military. Indeed, Sudan became a key node in Iran's strategy of exporting its revolution.
But when Saudi Arabia and a group of other Sunni states launched Operative Decisive Storm against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen last month, Sudan's longstanding allegiances appeared to have shifted. Bashir was visiting Saudi Arabia the day the military operation was announced. Sudan's participation in the coalition was an undeniable gain for Saudi Arabia and a loss Iran — two regional rivals that have long vied for Sudan's allegiances.
Egypt, a key partner in the Saudi-led coalition, has also long sought to woo Sudan out of the Iranian orbit. So when Sudan announced its participation in the coalition to counter the Houthi threat to Yemen, it stood to reason that Sudan and Egypt might also join forces on other fronts. Specifically, Cairo is now engaged in a campaign to weaken Hamas. Since 2013, the Egyptians have destroyed some 1,700 smuggling tunnels in the Sinai Peninsula that Hamas has historically used to smuggle Iranian weaponry via Sudan.
If there was an Israeli airstrike last night that targeted Iranian weapons near Khartoum, and those weapons were bound for Hamas, today could bring some rather awkward conversations amongst members of the Saudi-led coalition. Indeed, Sudan's longstanding ties to Iran may not be easily severed.
Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Find him on Twitter: @Jschanzer