The latest reports of an alleged IAF strike on a Hamas arms convoy in Sudan in January draw attention to an arms network running from Iran, via the Persian Gulf and Yemen to Sudan, Egypt, and finally, Hamas-ruled Gaza. The existence of this network has been noted by analysts in the past. It forms part of a larger, overt, close relationship maintained by both Iran and Hamas with the regime of Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum.
Reva Bhalla, an analyst at the Austin, Texas-based private intelligence company Stratfor, was the first to publicly note the transfer of arms from Iran to Hamas via Sudan. Speaking to reporters in early January, she suggested the involvement of Hizbullah agents in an Iranian-created network bringing arms from Sudan to the Gaza Strip. Bhalla depicted the network in the following terms: “You’ll have a bunch of Hizbullah agents who will procure arms through Sudan. They’ll enter Egypt under forged documents, pay off disgruntled Beduin in the Sinai with things like light arms, cash, Lebanese hashish – which they can sell in the black market – and pay off Egyptian security guards as well so that they can travel covertly into Gaza to pass off the weapons shipments through Hamas’s pretty extensive underground tunnel network.” It is impossible to verify the precise accuracy of these details. However, the involvement of Sudan in the Iranian-Hamas war effort would fit with the larger pattern of Sudan’s regional alliances and activity. The close connections between Teheran, Khartoum and Hamas are a matter of public record. Brigadier Bashir’s regime is, with the exception of the Hamas enclave in Gaza, the only overtly Islamist and pro-Iranian government in the Arabic-speaking world.
Sudan is an acknowledged member of the Iran-led regional alliance, which includes Syria, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Sudan has maintained close relations with Iran since the 1989 coup which brought Bashir to power. The coup was carried out in cooperation with the Islamist National Islamic Front, whose members went on to hold key positions in the new regime. Iranian supplies of weapons and oil began soon after. Hassan al-Turabi, a Muslim Brotherhood-associated Sudanese Islamist activist, was the key figure in building the Iran-Sudan link in the early days of the regime. The new Sudanese armed forces were built on the model of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Two thousand guard members are reported to have visited Sudan to aid in the creation and training of the new Sudanese army.
Since 1989, Sudan has become a center for terrorist training, offering a base to Osama bin Laden and his followers in the early 1990s. An estimated 10 camps are maintained in Sudan to train Islamist terrorist and paramilitary forces. Hamas members and others are reported to have taken part in military exercises in these camps. Sudan’s documented close relations with Hamas are the main reason that the country appears on the US State Department’s list of countries supporting terrorism. Sudan’s membership in the pro-Iranian regional alliance was in evidence earlier this month, when a senior delegation of Iranian, Syrian, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah officials traveled to Khartoum to express solidarity with the Sudanese leader, after an arrest warrant was issued for his arrest by the International Criminal Court at the beginning of March. The warrant seeks Bashir’s arrest on charges of crimes against humanity relating to his regime’s activities in the Darfur region of Sudan. Around 300,000 people are thought to have died as a result of the regime’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arab Sudanese in the west of the country.
The solidarity delegation was led by Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament. Larijani described the arrest warrant against Bashir as an “insult to all Muslims,” and spoke of Iran’s support for the Sudanese “government and people.” So the Bashir regime in Sudan is tied into the Iranian-led alliance diplomatically, militarily and ideologically. Evidence indicates that Sudan has acted as a key node in the arms trail leading from Iran to Gaza. The latest allegations of Israeli military action to disturb the flow of arms to the Hamas-administered Iranian enclave on the eastern Mediterranean will therefore come as no surprise to close observers of the region.