The events leading up to the bombing of a munitions factory in the Sudanese capital Khartoum last Monday– believed to have been carried out by Israel – has all the markings of the next made for Hollywood blockbuster spy thriller; international intrigue, politics, espionage, arms trafficking and Islamist fervor all taking place in oil producing countries.
What is interesting -- and worrisome – in this story is the extent to which the Middle East conflict has evolved, the number of countries which have become drawn into it and just how complex and dangerous this issue has become, transgressing borders and establishing new frontiers in international Islamist cooperation.
There are two very different parts to this story that at first may seem unrelated. Last Monday an Iranian naval task force docked in Sudan, most probably in Port Sudan, on the Red Sea. The naval force was bringing a message “of peace and security to neighboring countries,” reports the official Iranian news agency, IRNA. “The visit by Iranian warships to Sudan “is intended to underscore the defense and security ties between the two countries,” said IRNA.
The force included the Shahid Naqdi, a corvette-class vessel and the Kharg, a supply vessel capable of carrying three helicopters. The ships had set sail from Iran, most likely from Bandar Abbas, last month, according to IRNA. Note the presence of a supply ship, an indication that supplies were to be carried, one would assume.
The task force arrived in the African country six days after the destruction of the al-Yarmouk munitions factory in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. It is believed by a number of intelligence sources that these arms were being built in Sudan with Iranian financing and destined for Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement in the Gaza Strip. The weapons are believed to include rockets and other weapons and are then smuggled through Egypt into Gaza.
These rockets are a step up from the crude home-made rockets Hamas has fired at Israel in the past.
Related Article: Despite Fukushima, China Embraces Nuclear Power
The Sudanese have lodged an official complaint with the United Nations, blaming Israel for destroying the munitions factory. Meanwhile there has been no reaction from Israel, neither confirmation nor denial of the attack in Khartoum. This is not unusual as Israel refuses to comment on any intelligence related issues.
According to Western intelligence sources this is not the first time that Israel has carried out raids against suspected munitions sites in Sudan. Some reports say that there have been at least three Israeli air strikes over the past three years aimed at disrupting this arms manufacturing and smuggling network coming out of the Sudan.
A communiqué from the Iranian navy stated that the visit was aimed at "conveying the message of peace and friendship to the neighboring countries and ensuring security for seafaring and shipping lanes against marine terrorism and piracy".
Iranian naval vessels have joined an international flotilla of warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden, near the entrance to the Red Sea, since 2008, after Somali pirates hijacked an Iranian-chartered cargo ship, the MV Delight, just off the coast of Yemen.
Yet the trail that allegedly led the Israeli fighter planes to the Sudan goes back to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates some two years ago, when 11 agents of the Israeli Mossad, traveling under European passports assassinated a top Hamas official in a luxury hotel in Dubai. According to reports from the authorities in Dubai, the Mossad agents may have found incriminating documents relating to Iranian and Sudanese weapons manufacture on Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the target of the Mossad raid in Dubai.
Some reports allege that incriminating evidence linking al-Yarmouk munitions factory in Sudan to Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, was picked up in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates in 2010 when Israeli agents of the Mossad killed the Hamas official. The Mossad agents were caught on hotel security cameras arriving in the same hotel as the Hamas leader.
Related Article: The US is Not Even Close to Being the Next Saudi Arabia
Police in Dubai had released the names and photos of 11 members of the alleged Mossad hit squad. Hotel security cameras had recorded the arrival of the 11 agents, some of which donned disguises right out of a Mission Impossible film, with disguises, fake beards, wigs and falsified passports. At one point some members of the hit team, according to hotel security cameras, rode the same elevator as the Hamas official before he was slain in an ambush-style attack in a luxury hotel room.
Regardless of the documents found in Dubai and the influence they may have had in triggering the attack on Khartoum, there is little doubt as to the role Iran seeks in expanding its revolutionary influence in supporting Islamist groups in the region and beyond.
Sudan has oil but much of it is in the southern part of the country which has recently seceded from the north. South Sudan is mostly Christian and animist whereas the north is Muslim.
Why is Iran financing arms and munitions in the Sudan when it has ample facilities and manpower at home? Because several ships carrying arms intended for Hamas and other Islamist groups in the Middle East have been apprehended in the Mediterranean. Having them manufactured in the Sudan allows for a safer transit, through Egypt and into Gaza. It also permits Iran Revolutionary Guards, who are believed to run the Khartoum program, to also deliver weapons to other trouble spots in Africa, from Mali to Chad. No doubt a region to keep an eye on.
By. Claude Salhani
Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil,' is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.