Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Sudan’s transitional leader, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, while the two were in Uganda on Monday.
During the meeting, which was held at the residence of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the two leaders agreed to gradually normalize ties.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu believes that Sudan is headed in a new positive direction and he expressed his views to the Secretary of State of the United States of America,” Netanyahu’s official Twitter account wrote.
The announcement is a major milestone for Israel and its efforts to expand ties in Africa.
Sudan, which is an Arab-Muslim-majority country that borders Egypt to the south, has long been viewed as a hostile nation towards the Jewish state. However, long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir, who the international community regards as a war criminal for his role in the Darfur genocide, was ousted last year, and it appears that the country is seeking modernize, end its international isolation, and establish friendlier ties with foes such as Israel and the United States.
The meeting was purportedly orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates, and that only a “small circle” of top officials in Sudan as well as Saudi Arabia and Egypt knew about it ahead of time, the Associated Press reported. Sudan is hoping that by forging warm ties with Israel, it would increase its chances for the U.S. to remove its status as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which it was designated as in 1993. Under al-Bashir, Sudan also forged close ties with Iran and served as a pipeline to supply weapons to Palestinian terror groups such as Hamas. Israel is believed to have been behind airstrikes in Sudan that destroyed a weapons convoy in 2009 and a weapons factory in 2012.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Burhan and invited the Sudanese leader to Washington.
Currently, Sudan is without a president; Burhan heads a transitional 11-person government in Sudan. Democratic elections are scheduled for 2022.
Ahead of his trip on Sunday, Netanyahu spoke of the importance of Africa. Netanyahu has visited the continent five times in the last four years; in 2019, he struck a deal to re-establish ties with Chad, another Muslim-majority central African nation.
“Israel is returning to Africa in a big way; Africa already returned to Israel,” he said. “These are very important ties for diplomacy, for the economy, for security, and more will be revealed.”