Iranian warships dock in Sudan port amid row with Israel over factory blast
Two Iranian navy vessels docked at a Sudan port on Monday, just five days after suspected Israeli planes bombed an arms factory in Khartoum, according to media reports.
The ‘Shahid Naqdi’ corvette and a freighter left from a port in southern Iran last month, passed through the Red Sea and docked at a port in Sudan, the Iranian official news agency IRNA reported.
The Iranian ships arrived to “convey a message of peace and friendship to the region’s countries and to provide safety at sea in light of maritime terrorism,” IRNA reported.
Two people were reported to have been killed after fire broke out last week at al-Yarmouk arms factory in southern Khartoum. Sudanese officials said that four military planes attacked al-Yarmouk plant and Israel was behind it.
Another report by Iran’s Press TV said that the Navy’s 22nd fleet was dispatched to the coasts of Djibouti and the Strait of Bab al-Mandeb in late September.
The Iranian commanders of the fleet are scheduled to meet with Sudanese Navy commanders during their stay in the North African country, Press TV reported.
Iran's Navy has been multiplying its naval presence in the international waters since last year, deploying vessels to the Indian Ocean and dispatching, in February 2011, two ships via the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea for the first time.
Moreover, the Iranian Navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008 to safeguard the vessels involved in maritime trade, especially the ships and oil tankers owned or leased by Iran, within the framework of the international efforts to combat piracy.
The Gulf of Aden, which links the Indian Ocean with the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea, is the quickest route for thousands of vessels traveling annually between Asia, Europe and the Americas.
Sudan has served as a major hub for arms trafficking throughout the region. Top Israeli defense official Amos Gilad said last week that Sudan “serves as a route for the transfer, via Egyptian territory, of Iranian weapons to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists,” AFP reported.
CIA not aware
Meanwhile, local Sudanese newspaper al-Intiba reported Monday that CIA Director David Petraeus called Sudanese deputy intelligence head Saleh A-Tayeb, shortly after the alleged Israeli attack in Khartoum, and denied reports indicating that the U.S. had early knowledge of the attack.
The Sudanese paper quoted an official as saying that the Americans are fearful for the safety of diplomats in Khartoum.
The source further added that the Sudanese official explained Sudan’s position to Petraeus, adding that it bares the responsibility of protecting the foreign citizens residing in the African country.
However, according to the report published in the local al-Intiba newspaper, A-Tayeb told Petraeus that Washington could have pressured Israel into refraining from carrying out the attack.
Sudan’s foreign ministry on Monday denied that Iran had any involvement in the bombed military factory.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms what is known by all: that Iran has no need to manufacture weapons in Sudan, for Iran or for its allies,” the ministry said in a statement.
“We want to deny any relation between Sudan’s military manufacturing and any foreign partner.”
Israeli officials have expressed concern about arms smuggling through Sudan and have long accused Khartoum of serving as a base of support for militants from the Islamist Hamas movement that rules the Gaza Strip.
Sudan’s foreign ministry called Israel an “outlaw state... trying its best to pass fabricated information through different sources that have a link with Israel, in an effort to provide reasons for its aggression.”
“This includes talk about claimed relations between the al-Yarmouk compound and Iran and Syria, and the Hamas Islamic struggle movement in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
Jonah Leff, of Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based independent research project, said the project has documented the presence of a drone, landmines and other Iranian weapons in Sudan, but he thinks they were acquired directly from Iran rather than being locally manufactured.
“There’s a lot of speculation that Iran has provided technical assistance to the Sudanese for their weapons manufacturing but I haven't been able to confirm that they're producing any Iranian weapons,” he told AFP on Thursday.
Evidence from weapons packaging suggests that Chinese-origin arms and ammunition are exported to al-Yarmouk, Small Arms Survey says.
On a visit to Tehran last August, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir described the relationship between Sudan and Iran as “deeply rooted.”
In April last year, Sudan said it had irrefutable evidence that Israeli attack helicopters carried out a strike on a car in Red Sea state.
That incident mirrored a similar attack by foreign aircraft on a truck convoy reportedly laden with weapons in eastern Sudan in January 2009.
Fire erupted again late on Monday at al-Yarmouk site.
“There is no new attack but the fire broke out again. It began in some places not tended by firemen before,” Sawarmi Khaled Saad, the Sudanese army spokesman, was quoted as saying by the official SUNA news agency.
Residents of the area told AFP they saw smoke and fire in the area.