News from October 19 to October 25

Sudan, F-35s, and honorable mentions

Hey everyone! As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter.

Also, I will be moderating a conversation for Hillel at Home/Jewish Life at Duke this Wednesday at 6:00 with former Member of the Knesset Nachman Shai, Washington Institute Middle East Expert Dana Stroul, and Dr. Eli Sperling. We’ll be discussing the implications of the election for the American-Israeli relationship. You can register for the event here (be sure to submit questions!).

Israel and Sudan agree to begin normalizing relations: 

What happened? On Friday, President Trump announced that Israel and Sudan had agreed to “the normalization of relations between Sudan and Israel and to end the state of belligerent between their nations.” They also “agreed to begin economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture.” As part of the deal, the United States will remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and grant Sudan a significant aid package. In turn, Sudan transferred $335 million into an escrow account that will compensate the victims of past Sudanese terror and will also designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Sudan is now the fifth Arab state to normalize relations with Israel and the third in the past few months. 

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Source: France 24.

Is this really a normalization deal? Yes, but not in the same way as the UAE and Bahrain. As every country is different, each state requires a different approach. Following the ousting of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir, Sudanese leaders set up a transitional government led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Chairman of the Sovereignty Council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (whose name you may recall from a surprise February 2020 meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Netanyahu in Ethiopia). According to Sudan’s acting Foreign Minister Omar Gamareldin, for the normalization deal to become fully “functional,” Sudan must first set up a legislative council to approve it. Put simply, Sudan, as an emerging democracy, must democratically approve the deal. However, it may not be easy–former Sudanese prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, who leads the country’s largest political party, has expressed opposition to the normalization deal. Thus, in the long-term, it remains to be seen how fully Israel and Sudan implement the normalization agreement. In the meantime, however, Israel and Sudan are moving ahead with their initiative. Officials from the two countries will meet soon to arrange bilateral agreements and Israel has already announced a $5 million shipment of wheat to Sudan. 

Why is Sudan significant? In 1967, Sudan hosted the Khartoum Conference, during which the Arab League declared the “three nos” of no peace, no recognition, and no negotiations with Israel. Now, as Netanyahu highlighted, instead of the three nos, “Khartoum has said, ‘Yes to peace with Israel, yes to recognition of Israel and yes to normalization with Israel.’”

Analysis (commentary): What’s interesting about the Israel-Sudan-United States deal is that it is perhaps the clearest example of the Trump administration’s new approach to Middle East politics. Specifically, this agreement is emblematic of the Trump administration’s willingness to use unconventional “levers” to pressure countries and get results. American administrations have historically linked Arab normalization with Israel to a final-status agreement with the Palestinians. Now, the United States is taking a different approach. By linking other issues like Sudan’s removal from the state sponsor of terror list and the Emirati purchase of the F-35*, the Trump administration has added more tools to its Middle Eastern geopolitical toolbox. To be clear, I’m not passing a normative judgment on the deals, but it’s worth noting that, for better or for worse, this new approach is getting results. 

*No American, Israeli, or Emirati official has confirmed the linkage but come on…

Further reading:

Israel withdraws its protest of the United States’ F-35 sale to the United Arab Emirates:

Background (for sources in this section, see this newsletter from a few weeks ago): As you may recall, the United Arab Emirates has been eager to purchase the F-35 weapons system from the United States. When reports indicating the UAE’s desire to buy the systems emerged shortly after President Trump announced the Abraham Accords, Israel formally objected to a potential F-35 deal. Israel had good standing to oppose the sale of the F-35; according to American law, the United States government must consider Israel’s quantitative military edge (QME) before selling weapons to any country in the region. In other words, the United States cannot give other Middle Eastern countries advanced weaponry that could pose a risk to Israel. 

When the Abraham Accords were announced in August, many were surprised, including Israeli Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. Netanyahu, who relied on his Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer for negotiations, brokered the deal while keeping senior government officials (and coalition partners) out of the loop. So, when the reports began spreading shortly after the Abraham Accords that the United States would sell the UAE the F-35, some criticized Netanyahu for failing to consult the Israeli defense establishment about a potentially game-changing arms deal. Others questioned if the F-35 sale was part of the normalization agreement because it would undermine Netanyahu’s claim that the agreement was “peace for peace.” Responding to claims that he did not consult with the defense establishment, Netanyahu said that he had spoken with a high-ranking officer in the IDF about the sale. Even if he did speak with the IDF officer, some suggest he was still breaking protocol by not consulting with Gantz or the IDF Chief of Staff, Aviv Kochavi. 

What happened? Earlier this week, Gantz traveled to Washington for talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Following their meeting, Gantz and Netanyahu released a joint press release indicating that they no longer oppose the United States’ F-35 deal with the UAE. They also said that the United States had committed to improve Israel’s military capabilities. Some have speculated that the United States will maintain Israel’s QME by selling it the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, providing Israel with equipment that could detect Emirati F-35s, or weakening the Emirati F-35s. 

Was that all? Nope. In addition to his joint statement with Netanyahu, Gantz released a press release accusing Netanyahu of leaving the defense establishment (which he leads as the Defense Minister) out of negotiations over the F-35. Gantz’s statement implies that Israeli approval of the F-35 sale was part of the normalization negotiations with the UAE. As I mentioned before, including an arms deal in the agreement changes the Emirati normalization narrative from “peace for peace” to “weapons for peace.” Netanyahu denied the link in a television appearance, saying the two deals were unrelated.

Anything else? Now that Israel has given the green light on the Emirati F-35 sale, expect other regional players to request their own F-35 deals. Qatar, which provides Hamas with hundreds of millions of dollars in funding (though with Israel’s blessing), is also rumored to want the F-35. Israeli officials believe the sale will happen if the Qataris are determined and willing to pay for it. 

Further reading: (Jerusalem Post)

Honorable mentions:

4 Jews are running for Senate in 2020 — including 2 who could help turn it blue. Here’s what you need to know about them.” by Ron Kampeas (JTA)

An anti-Semitic cake, a Holocaust survivor and a whole lot of Hebrew: All the Jewish moments in ‘Borat 2’” by Gabe Friedman (JTA)

‘The Great British Baking Show’ has a Jewish dessert problem” by Shannon Sarna (The Nosher) (And here’s another article about the Great British Baking Show’s rainbow bagel challenge from a few weeks ago)

Human trials for Israeli coronavirus vaccine to begin November 1” by Judah Ari Gross (Times of Israel)

U.S. and Bahrain Agree to MOU Saying Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism” by Aaron Bandler (Jewish Journal)

The Republican Jewish Coalition has funneled more money to Lindsey Graham than any other group” by Molly Boigon (Forward)

Ivanka Trump visits the tomb of the Lubavitcher Rebbe as election nears” by Ron Kampeas (JTA)

The 160-year history of rabbis addressing Congress” by Melissa Weiss (Jewish Insider)

Alexander Treisman, accused of plotting to kill Joe Biden, is son of prominent Jewish attorney once called ‘Schindler for Tibetans’” by Ben Sales (JTA)

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