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Mystery Shrouds Air Strike in Sudan

A convoy of trucks carrying weapons destined for the Hamas in Gaza through Sudan was attacked and destroyed January 2009 but no country has assumed responsibility on this attack. Sudanese State Minister for Highways, Mabrouk Mubarak Saleem confirmed that a "major power bombed small trucks carrying arms, burning all of them. According to Sudan-Tribune the attack launched from a US base in Djibouti took place in a desert area northwest of Port Sudan city, near Mount al-Sha'anun and destroyed all 17 trucks in the convoy killing 39 people, among them Sudanese, Eritreans and Ethiopians.

The totality of the attack hints on the employment of a combination of precision attack by fighter bombers and 'mopping up' by special operations 'gunsip' type assets. For example, the AC-130 Spectre flown by US Special Operations Command uses direct fire 40mm and 105mm guns. However, the true identity of the attacker remains unknown. Unidentified US officials disputed the report about US involvement in the operation. A CBS report aired yesterday (March 25, 2009) claims the Israel Air Force fighter bombers have carried the attack however, official Israeli sources refused to confirm or deny the report. Read more...

According to CBS News national security correspondent David Martin the Israeli intelligence learned of plans to move weapons through Sudan, north toward Egypt and then via the Sinai into the Gaza Strip. During the final days of the Israeli offensive against Hamas Israel and the USA reached a security-intelligence memorandum on intensifying cooperation in a joint effort to block the smuggling of arms from Iran to Hamas via Sudan.

CBS also quotes unnamed Israeli security sources saying that an international network has been set in place in which smugglers move arms caches from Iran through the Persian Gulf to Yemen, on to Sudan and then to Egypt and Sinai where they are brought into the Gaza Strip through tunnels. Israeli intelligence has warned that the deliveries include anti-tank missiles, small arms, and military grade high explosives, as well as missiles.

Commentary by David Eshel:

Reports that Israel may have carried out an air attack on an Iranian weapons convoy in the Sudanese desert earlier this year, have drawn attention to an alleged Iranian arms smuggling network in Africa. Sudan is believed to be playing a key role in Iranian efforts to deliver weapons to militant Hamas fighters in Gaza - filling the gaps created by Israel's operation Cast Lead last January.

Iran has long been suspected smuggling weapons from Sudan into Egypt. It is a very practical supply route for the Iranians to use. Foreign reporters visiting Sudan mention that the arms market throughout Sudani cities are thriving and act as a very easy way for Iran to send agents, mainly Hezbollah, to come under false passports into Sudan. There they purchase weapons and transport them by trucks across Sudan and Egypt into the Sinai Peninsula, where local Bedouins assist getting those arms into Gaza, through the Rafah underground tunnel network.

A report released by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy last month claims that Iranian arms are actually shipped to Sudan from Iran. They are transported overland, through a variety of routes in Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and South Africa. The authors say the shipments are gathered in Sudan and then moved through the Sinai Peninsula into Gaza.

That the Khartoum government of President Omar Hassan el-Bashir is cooperating with Tehran, comes as little surprise. Sudan has had close relations with Iran since 1989, when a military coup brought el-Bashir to power. At the time, Iran was emerging from an eight-year war with neighboring Iraq and was looking for allies in the Sunni Muslim-Arab world. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are believed to have played a major role in helping el-Bashir consolidate power by training and giving logistical support to the new Sudanese army. Analysts warn, that the alleged Israeli air strike on Sudanese soil may cause the government in Khartoum to move even closer to Tehran.

What increase regional tension further are rumors circulating in Khartoum, probably diffused by the Iranians, that intelligence sources in Egypt had leaked the information about the weapons convoy to Israel. But media reports indicated that the airstrike launched inside Sudan were already known to Egypt when it happened, its foreign minister said last week

See also news analysis: Tehran Setting Up Strategic Presence In Red Sea