Israel Mum on Mystery Explosion in Sudan

JERUSALEM, Oct. 25, 2012

Israeli officials today would not confirm nor deny that the Israeli military carried out an attack Tuesday night on a weapons factory just south of the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

The African nation directly accused Israel of launching a night time air raid on the Yarmouk factory, with a senior minister telling reporters, "The people have seen it with their eyes - four planes coming from the east, and we have no enemy other than Israel."

Israel has long accused Sudan of being a base of support for Iran and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, calling it a conduit for arms heading to militant groups in the Gaza Strip via the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak refused to comment in an interview Wednesday night but a top aide, Amos Gilad, repeated those accusations on today on Israel's army radio.

"Sudan is a dangerous terrorist state. To know exactly what happened, it will take some time to understand," he said.

Sudanese officials have denied the allegations of arms smuggling.

The alleged attack happened overnight Tuesday and reportedly killed two. Sudanese officials initially said a fire started in a storage hall and that nothing pointed to an "external" cause. Journalists in Khartoum were shown a video from the site showing a large crater next to two destroyed buildings and a rocket on the ground, the Reuters news agency reported.

Video of the early aftermath posted online looked like fireworks being set off, followed by raging fires and thick plumes of smoke.

Sudan's state news agency said Thursday that the four Israeli planes used "hi-tech jamming devices" in the attack and a local Sudanese reporter told Israel's Haaretz newspaper that there was a telecommunications blackout for about an hour before the explosions at the factory.

Sudan's Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said that contrary to Israeli belief, the plant didn't make advanced or nuclear arms, only "traditional weapons." Sixty percent of it had been destroyed, he said. Osman warned that Sudan would now respond "at a place and time we choose."

Haaretz reported today that "opposition sources" in the Sudan claimed the factory was actually owned and operated by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard. Alex Fishman, an Israeli military analyst, agreed.

"One thing is certain: That factory did not belong to the Sudanese military industries," he said. "It was a factory that belonged to the government in Tehran and which was run by Iranians. If there were any casualties in the attack, it is reasonable to assume that some of them were Iranian."

Iran analyst Yoel Guzansky at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, who used to work at Israel's National Security Agency, also agreed, saying he believes the target was a Iranian facility within the Yarmouk complex known to Israeli intelligence.

Asked whether Israel carried out the strike, Guzansky responded, "I really don't know."

"It's easy for Sudan to blame Israel, even if they know it's other countries like Egypt or the U.S. It's not as costly politically," he said.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast placed blame for the explosion squarely on Israel, calling it an attack that was a "clear violation of international rules and regulations" and said it "would escalate tensions in the region," according to Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Some 300 protesters demonstrated Wednesday against Israel outside the government building where the Sudanese cabinet was in an emergency meeting, shouting "Death to Israel" and "Remove Israel from the map," Reuters reported.

This is not the first time Israel has been accused of carrying out a strike against a Sudanese target. In 2011, a missile strike on Port Sudan that killed a Hamas weapons smuggler was blamed on Israel, along with another similar strike in eastern Sudan in 2009.