Middle East

In sign of thaw, Israeli PM says flight crosses Sudan skies

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that an Israeli aircraft made a historic first flight over Sudan just two weeks after he met with the Arab state’s leader in Uganda.

The Israeli premier met with the head of Sudan’s transitional government, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, in a major step toward improving ties with an Arab state that has long been hostile to Israel.

Netanyahu touted his meeting with the Sudanese leader as yet another foreign relations accomplishment ahead of March 2′s parliamentary elections, Israel’s third in a year.

Israel and Sudan are “discussing rapid normalization,” Netanyahu said Sunday, adding that “the first Israeli airplane passed yesterday over the skies of Sudan.” He was speaking at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem.

An Israeli government official said the plane was “a private Israeli executive jet,” not a flight with Israel’s national carrier El Al. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Flight data from the Flight Aware website showed a private business jet crossing Sudanese airspace on a flight from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Tel Aviv on Thursday night, landing in Israel at 4:25 a.m. local time on Friday morning.

It remained unclear whether Netanyahu was referring to the same flight.

Sudan, a longtime member of the Arab League, has joined other member states in rejecting the Trump administration’s Mideast plan that Palestinians have said is heavily biased toward Israel. But to rebuild Sudan’s economy, the new administration in Khartoum also seeks an end to American sanctions as a U.S.-listed state sponsor of terror.

Longtime Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a 2019 military coup amid pro-democracy protests. Burhan heads the transitional council ruling the country now.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Burhan was kept secret until after the fact due to sensitivities of the Sudanese leader meeting with the prime minister of Israel.

Netanyahu has played up the development of covert ties with Arab states as a foreign policy coup during his administration, even as his bid for a fourth consecutive term in office is overshadowed by his indictment. He was formally charged last month on several counts of corruption.

Reporting by Ilan Ben Zion

Image: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, Israel, Thursday, Jan, 23, 2020 (Abir Sultan, Pool via AP)

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