Israel’s rocky relationship with Iran took yet another step towards a possible military confrontation on Monday evening with the arrival of two Iranian warships to the Sudanese capital city of Khartoum.
The arrival of the Iranian Navy’s helicopter carrier Kharg and its destroyer, Admiral Shahid Naqdi, on Sudan’s Red Sea coast raises questions over strengthening relations between Khartoum and Tehran. The visit, which Sudanese officials insist was planned weeks in advance, follows last week’s explosion at a Khartoum weapons warehouse that officials blamed on an Israeli airstrike.
Israeli media outlets have reported that a long-range bombing run by eight F-15 bombers hit a missile base staffed by Iranian engineers at the Yarmouk military plant.
Sudan’s information minister, Ahmed Belal Osman, last week accused Israel of carrying out an airborne attack on the facility at Yarmouk, outside Khartoum, on Oct. 24 that left extensive damage. Sudan has complained to the United Nations over the alleged strike, while Israel has refused to comment.
The warships’ visit was a chance to “support strong political, security and diplomatic relations” between Sudan and Iran, Sawarmi Khaled Saad, a Sudanese army spokesman, told the country’s official SUNA news agency Monday.
It would allow Sudanese officials to study “advanced weapons and advanced ships,” he added.
Commanders of the Iranian flotilla reportedly met Sudanese navy chiefs as a gesture of “peace and friendship.”
The two vessels have been based in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea since September, as part of Iran’s involvement in international naval efforts to beat Somali piracy. An Iranian vessel was hijacked in 2008.
Their visit to Sudan would “convey Iran’s message of peace to the regional countries and maintain the security of shipping corridors against maritime terrorism,” Press TV, an Iranian state-owned broadcaster, reported.
The government in Khartoum Monday issued a terse statement denying that there was any agreement for Sudan to assemble or store arms for Iran.
“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.”
Israel has in the past accused Sudan of allowing Iran to transport weapons to militant groups in the Middle East via its territory. The arms are then allegedly smuggled through Egypt to Gaza or on to Lebanon.
Sudan, whose president Omar al-Bashir is known to be close to Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has twice previously accused Israel of carrying out airstrikes inside his country.
A convoy of vehicles traveling towards Sudan’s border with Egypt was destroyed by unknown aircraft in January 2009, and a single SUV was hit in Port Sudan last year.
It was reported in 2009 that the convoy included Iranian weapons, including anti-tank rockets, that were being shipped to Hamas in Gaza. Tehran and Khartoum have both denied this.
The two Iranian warships were due to leave port on Wednesday and continue patrols in the Red Sea, Sudanese officials said.
Iran claims to have harvested images of “sensitive” Israeli military sites and other potential missile targets form a drone shot down after it was launched from Lebanon by Hezbollah, the Shiite group whose militant terror arm is equipped with missiles, rockets and other arms by Tehran.
An Israeli investigation into the mystery craft, which was reported to have crossed deep into its territory, has not yet reached any conclusions. However military officials have briefed that they did not believe it was equipped with a camera.
Iran claimed last month it had started manufacturing a long-range missile-carrying drone with a range of 1,250 miles.
The Shahed-129, or Witness-129, covers much of the Middle East, including Israel, and nearly doubles the range of previous drones produced by Iranian technicians, who have often relied on reverse engineering military hardware with the country under Western embargo.
Last year Tehran said it recovered the carcass of a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone that had landed in its territory after veering off course in Afghanistan. The regime claimed it was using the data recovered from unmanned aircraft to build its own version of one of the most sophisticated surveillance drones made by the U.S.