Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Sudan's commitment to Operation Decisive Storm, navigating the restless Middle Eastern political landscape

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Sudan's commitment to the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm, aimed at regaining stability in Yemen and bringing the internationally recognised government of President Hadi back to power, perfectly represents the current foreign policy of the Sudanese government. Sudan floats somewhere in between being Iran's major ally in Africa, and the other end of the spectrum where it is trying to present itself as an ally of Gulf countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, in a bid to get not too distanced from these economically important countries. A difficult political game to play, especially so in the increasingly restless Middle Eastern landscape.

Sudan can be seen as Iran's most trustworthy ally in Africa, and probably one of its most important allies in the whole world. Sudan first opened its arms for Iranian economic and military aid in the late eighties, and both countries continue to enjoy a warm relationship, which expresses itself mainly in the form of military cooperation nowadays. This close relationship between the two countries has been a source of much worry to Saudi Arabia.

Sudan has always denied the presence of any Iranian military advisors in the country, and continued this policy on an official visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2014. A leaked audio-recording of a high level meeting between the Sudanese Minister of Defence and several generals in September 2014 revealed that Iranians not only serve as advisors to the Sudanese Armed Forces, but are in fact mainly concerned with trafficking arms throughout Africa and the Middle East, with most of the weaponry destined for Hamas and Libya Dawn.[1] [2]

Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard in Sudan take care of the weapons shipments from the point they arrive in Sudan until they travel to Gaza via Egypt. Sudan functions as a middle man here, as they allow the shipments to arrive and agree to see them transported over Sudanese soil. A number of past Israeli raids on ships transporting the weapons to Sudan and on convoys and storage depots inside Sudan thus comes as no surprise.

But an unexpected recipient of some of the arms makes the whole situation even more complicated, as Sudan reportedly also provided arms to the Houthis in Yemen, the exact same forces it is targeting now as a part of Operation Decisive Storm.

The following was said by the Sudanese Minister of Defence, Abdul-Rahim Mohamed Hussein:

''We have a problem with Saudi Arabia because they found out about the weapons we sent by way of the Red Sea to Abd al-Malik Al-Houthi’s Shia group in Yemen,” said Major General Hashim Abdalla Mohammed in the meeting.''

The leaked audi-recording also covers Sudan's relationship with Iran in detail:

''I shall start with our relationship with Iran and say it is a strategic and everlasting relationship. We cannot compromise or lose it.


They opened the doors of their stores of weapons for us, at a time the Arabs stood against us. The Iranian support came when we were fighting a rebellion that spread in all directions. The Iranians provided us with experts and they trained our Military Intelligence and soldiers. 


There is one full battalion of the Republican Guard still with us here and other experts who are constructing interception and spying bases in order to protect us, plus an advanced Air Defence system.''

The military officials agreed to ''maintain good relations with the Gulf States in principle, yet work strategically with Iran, in total secrecy and on a limited scale, through the Military Intelligence and security.'' General Siddiq Amer stated: ''We will not sacrifice our relations with the Islamists and Iran for a relationship with the Saudis and the Gulf States. What is possible is a relationship that serves our mutual economic interests in terms of investment and employment. We must have a foothold in both camps.''

Another perfect example of this complicated foreign policy was the sale of man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and ammunition to Qatar, which subsequently delivered them to Syrian rebels via Turkey. This while Sudan's longtime ally Iran is the primary reason the regime of Bashar al-Assad is still in power, and even supplied Su-22 fighter-bombers to the Syrian Arab Air Force.

Back to Operation Decisive Storm, which now also includes a contingent of four Sudanese Air Force (SuAF) aircraft based at the massive King Khalid airbase. The aircraft (one of them seen in the header), likely totaling four Su-24Ms, were put under the command of the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF). Sudan also pledged to deploy 6.000 troops to Saudi Arabia for a possible ground invasion of Yemen.

Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan stated the following:

''Sudan expresses unlimited support to the coalition supporting the legitimacy and confirms its active participation on the ground amongst the coalition forces in order to maintain peace and stability in the region''

Colonel Al-Sawarmy Khaled Saad, spokesman of the Sudanese Armed Forces said the goal of the operation was ''protecting Islamic holy sites and protecting the region''.

Claims that one the Sudanese aircraft was shot down during one of their operations over Yemen turned out to be false, the supposed pictures of the wreckage of the SuAF Su-24 actually displaying pieces of a destroyed Yemeni S-75 surface-to-air missile instead. The image showing the captured 'Sudanese pilot' reveals a person not reminiscent of any Sudanese, and the faint smile on his face failed to make the situation look any more convincing.

As it remains unknown if Sudan acquired any guided air-to ground weaponry for its Su-24Ms, or if its pilots are trained to use them, it is likely that the Su-24s will only be used when large targets of opportunity present themselves, or when the chance of collateral damage is minimal. The integration of Soviet-built aircraft into the Saudi-led coalition, which flies Western-made planes exclusively, would also be extremely difficult.

Yet it could also be that none of the Su-24s will see action, and that the move to deploy them in Saudi Arabia is purely politically motivated. Sudan thus carefully tries to balance its loyalty between the Gulf countries and Iran. During Operation Decisive Storm, Sudan chose to follow the other Arab countries in joining the Saudi-led Coaltion, and while it might have not been persuaded by Saudi Arabia to do so, the possibility of economic exclusion, sanctions and expulsion of the around three million Sudanese expats working in the Gulf countries was an important consideration, and likely the reason behind Sudan's decision to participate.

Recommended Articles

Is the Saudi-led coalition sparing the Yemeni Air Force? 
Saudi aircraft pound al-Dailami airbase, destroying U.S. delivered aircraft
Saudi aircraft demolish Yemeni ballistic missile site

1 comment:

  1. Pretty sure "Sudan" no longer has any kind of relationship with Iran, as Saudis basically bribed Sudan out of having "close relations" with Iran...