By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli commercial planes have started overflying Sudan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, casting the new air corridor as the result of a breakthrough meeting with the African Muslim country’s de-facto leader this month.
Khartoum said on Feb. 5 it had given Israeli planes initial approval to fly over its territory, two days after Sudan’s military head of state, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, met Netanyahu in Uganda.
“Now we’re discussing rapid normalization. The first Israeli airplane passed yesterday over the skies of Sudan,” Netanyahu said in a speech to U.S. Jewish leaders, saying the route cut some three hours off flights from Israel to South America.
Sudan, mindful of pro-Palestinian sensitivities, has stopped short of saying it is normalizing ties with Israel.
Israel previously considered Sudan a security threat because it suspected Iran used Sudan as a conduit for overland smuggling of munitions to the Gaza Strip. In 2009, regional sources said, Israeli aircraft bombed an arms convoy in Sudan.
The corridor described by Netanyahu would also take planes over Egypt, which made peace with Israel in 1979, and Chad, which in 2018 restored long-severed relations with Israel.
Normalizing relations with Sudan, where Arab states gathered in 1967 to issue what became known as the “Three No’s” – no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel and no negotiations with Israel – would allow Netanyahu to burnish his diplomatic credentials a month before Israel’s March 2 election.
Since their meeting, the air corridor is the most prominent development that has been discussed publicly by both sides.
Israeli commentators have speculated that the new contacts with Khartoum could allow for the repatriation of illegal Sudanese migrants in Israel, and that Israel could in turn lobby the United States to improve Sudan’s standing in Washington.
(This story corrects misstated word in headline)
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)