But there is plenty of reason not to dismiss them. Evidence
abounds that the facility was destroyed in an aerial bombardment. An AFP
report from Khartoum states that both an AFP journalist and local residents
witnessed either an "aircraft or missile" flying overhead. The journalist "saw
two or three fires flaring across a wide area, with heavy smoke and intermittent
flashes of white light bursting above the state-owned factory." A video of the incident
uploaded to YouTube is consistent with this description -- it's clear that there
were explosions above the factory, even if it is unclear what caused them. Yesterday,
Girifna, a global network of Sudanese anti-regime
activists with numerous sources and members in Khartoum, tweeted, "witnesses
suggest [the facility] was attacked."
There's really only one country that has the capabilities or
the motive to wage a pinpointed aerial assault on a single wing of a single
weapons facility in the southern reaches of city of a 5 million people: Israel.
The defense ministers of Sudan and Iran signed a "military
cooperation agreement" in 2008. Sudan has hosted Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel, and allegedly served as a transit
point for weapons bound for Hamas, in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis are acutely aware of the situation: an April, 2009 diplomatic cable published by
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as telling U.S. officials that "the
arms pipeline runs from Iran to Sudan
to Egypt." And in a meeting with U.S. special envoy Scott Gration, Sudanese
intelligence chief Salah Ghosh acknowledged
that anti-Israel weapons smuggling was occurring on Sudanese territory -- but
denied that his government was directly involved ("'The Rashaida (tribe in the
eastern Sudan engaged in smuggling) in many countries is now beginning to talk
about killing Americans and Israelis,'" Ghosh was reported as saying).
Israel might have struck inside the Sudan before: once, in early
2009, when it allegedly destroyed
a 23-truck weapons smuggling convoy in the country's east, and again in April
of 2011, when Israel might
have been responsible for the bombing of a Hamas arms trafficker in Port Sudan. Assuming
it was also Israel's doing, the destruction of the weapons facility would represent
another level of audacity. "I would say that if the Sudanese government's
claims are correct, then this is longest strike -- the farthest strike -- ever
executed by the Israeli air force," says Ehud Yaari, the Israel-based Lafer International
Fellow at the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy. "We are talking about something that is 1,800 or 1,900
kilometers [from Israel], depending on the route. That's farther away than the
range from Israel to the main Iranian nuclear installations in Natanz and Qom."
Khartoum isn't just further away and more densely populated
than either of Israel's previous alleged targets inside the Sudan. It's
probably better-protected as well. According to the 2012 edition of the International Institute for Strategic Studies'
The Military Balance, the Sudanese air force still consists of 61 combat
capable aircraft, as well as Russian-built Divina 2 anti-aircraft missiles. It's
unlikely that the Sudanese air force's rusting collection of Cold War-era MiGs
and Sukhois could take out a column of Israeli fighter jets. But an attack on
the Sudanese capital is hardly a risk-free proposition, or at least it isn't as
easy as attacking remote tracts of desert hundreds of kilometers northeast of Khartoum.