Monday, March 30, 2009
So who did bomb the Iranian arms trucks in Sudan?
The only solid fact emerging from the fanciful "reports" traded between Western and Middle East media over the bombing of an Iranian arms convoy bound for Hamas in January is that Tehran's arms shipments to Hamas via Sinai and the Gaza tunnels continue at full spate.
Somehow, as the "reporting" unfolded, the US attackSomehow, as the "reporting" unfolded, the US attacker morphed into the Israeli Air Force.
Western imagination outdid itself Sunday, March 28, when the London Sunday Times claimed that Israeli intelligence used drones to bomb the convoy in Sudan, possibly even Eitan UAVs, whose wing span is like that of a Boeing airliner, and that missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv were the target.
If this claim and reports in other Western media - asserting glibly that Israeli drones or warplanes had sunk an Iranian ship in the Red Sea - are correct, they would signify:
1. That Israel and Iran are at war;
2. That Tehran has decided to take Israeli attacks on the chin and not respond. Does this sound like the Iranian leaders we know?
3. Israel has declared war on Sudan with two attacks.
4. And, most importantly, Israel's armed forces have failed to stem the flow of Iranian arms to Gaza.
In the original disclosure which started the hare, an Egyptian newspaper Al-Shurooq Tuesday March 24, reported that in January, a US Air Force AC 130H taking off from Djibouti destroyed an Iranian arms convoy of 17 trucks in North Sudan on its way to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, killing 39 passengers.
The Egyptian paper ran the story the day before Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir arrived in Cairo. It stressed that the Sudanese authorities had conducted "a full blown dossier'" on the attack, consisting of "images, forensics as well as remains of weapons and satellite phones."
The al-Shurooq article quoted Egyptian and Sudanese military sources.
This was taken as a sign that the two governments had cooked up a stratagem to signal the Obama administration that anything the West could do to gather evidence against Sudan and its president, Cairo and Khartoum could match with proofs of US violations of international law in the Middle East.
It was suggested in a later report that the victims were African refugees (Khartoum later claimed 900 people were killed in the attack) rather than passengers ferrying an arms convoy from Iran. The Americans, it was hinted, hit noncombatants almost once a week in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Oddly, the Israeli media which are wont to rerun lengthy reports from the Arab press, however unreliable, missed this one, although it indicated a chill had crept into Cairo's relations with the Obama administration. No official comment came from Washington – at least not directly. However, a few hours later, CBS television news cited unidentified sources at the Pentagon as stressing that the attack was not carried out by American but Israeli aircraft.
By lobbing the hot potato back into the Middle East court and… Israel, Washington saved itself an argument with Cairo over whether the air strike was ordered by the former US administration or by the incoming US president Barack Obama as his first anti-terror operation in the Middle East
This story, still uncorroborated, made front pages everywhere and began to take on a life of its own, embroidered freely as media competition kicked in:
First , Cairo had never intended its disclosure to be seized on by radical regional elements as an expose of Israeli military might. Since March 24, all Egyptian sources of information have been shut down.
Israel has held officially silent too. Why look a gift horse in the mouth when your pro-Iranian foes talk up your military capabilities?
Second , Disclosure of an American attack on Sudan, Tehran's ally – especially if more than one took place as some have reported - would interfere with Barack Obama's plans for a profound rapprochement with Tehran. It might embarrassingly recall the failed US attack on Osama bin Laden's Sudan bases ordered by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Obama would not wish to be associated with any failed enterprises in the past
Third , the event was seized on hungrily by the Israeli media, fed constantly by invented or copied "details." The Qatar emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani who is hosting the Arab League summit opening in Doha Tuesday, March 31, was also glad of a boost for this event.
DEBKAfile's military sources report that the chain of propaganda and counter-propaganda could have been easily snapped by the Khartoum government: A single photograph or solid datum from its "full-blown dossier" attesting to the bombs, missiles, anti-air ordnance in the trucks - or the aircraft alleged to have destroyed them - would have put to rest the torrent of unrestricted published hyperbole by identifying the attacker and the contents of the trucks transiting the Sudanese desert.
But why should the Al Bashir regime go to the trouble? Since Clinton attacked targets wrongly identified as al Qaeda bases 13 years, Sudan has never enjoyed so much publicity. Its president, the subject of an international arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity, will be the hero of the Arab summit and bask in unaccustomed limelight.