Southern Sudan Signals Future Ties with Israel

The official majority vote in favor of secession by 98 percent of the voters in Southern Sudan has caused Israeli officials and analysts to weigh the consequences in a new light, especially in regards to ties to the future state.

In October, Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit said in a statement that Israel “is the enemy of the Palestinians only, and not an enemy of the South.” And even though the pan-Arab daily Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat claims the president backtracked on his statement, according to Dr. Irit Back, an East Africa expert at Tel Aviv University, the odds of South Sudan establishing ties with Israel are still “Very good.”

According to Dr. Back, Southern Sudan could potential serve as a non-Arab ally along the periphery of the Middle East, in a nod to Israel’s past history of establishing relationships with non-Arab states in the Middle East such as Turkey and Iran.

However, Kiir reportedly said in a closed-door meeting with the Arab-League that his government has no ties with Israel. The statement was in response to accusations made by the Arab League’s envoy to Khartoum that Israel was interfering in internal Sudanese politics and helping the South secede. As a result, the true intentions of the nascent state will only be seen later this year.

Since the 19th century when Sudan was a British colony, it has been divided along linguistic, ethnic and religious lines and has led to two of the bloodiest and violent civil wars in Africa’s modern history. The two wars, between 1955 to 1972 and 1983 to 2005, were fought between the Northern Arab-Muslim population and the Southern Christians and Animists and left 2 million dead as well as 4 million displaced citizens. Israel has a history of supporting Southern Sudan.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Israel rewarded Southern rebels that kept the Sudanese Army out of the Six Day War by giving them Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian weapons that Israel had seized. This enabled the South to fight back against the Sudanese government, which has been accused repeatedly of discriminating against the non-Muslim population in the south.

The other issue for Israel is the Sudanese migrants in Israel, most of which are from Southern Sudan. Experts in Israel and abroad have said that Israel must wait until there is a stable peace before sending any migrants home.

Regardless of the issue of illegal migrants, the nascent state will be recognized by the US and Israel in July 2011.