London, Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- At a time of continued uncertainty surrounding the details of the attacks which targeted an arms-smuggled operation – described as Iranian – to the Palestinian Hamas movement via Sudan, credible sources have revealed new information to Asharq Al-Awsat regarding this attack. The sources revealed that the Sudanese government received a warning from the US prior to the attack; the warning stated that a third-party was monitoring the operation which aimed at smuggling weapons from Sudan to the Gaza Strip through the Sinai Desert, and warned the Sudanese authorities to cease any such operations.
One source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that an American official had telephoned a Sudanese official and delivered a warning, stressing the importance of this warning reaching the highest authorities in Khartoum, and stressing that any [arms smuggling] operation cease immediately.
When the source was asked of Khartoum’s response to the warning, he informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the relevant Sudanese authorities had promised to look into the issue.
However only a short time after the warning, air raids took place against a ground convoy of 17 “Land Cruiser” vehicles near the Red-sea town of Post Sudan, air raids also took place against 4 ships in the Red Sea within Sudanese territorial waters. Since the attack came following the US warning, some Sudanese officials indicated at the outset that they believed America was responsible for the attack, this was denied by Washington. Following this, accusations began to be leveled at Israel, who did not officially confirm responsibility for the attack in the same way that they had previously done with regards to air strikes targeted against the Deir Ez Zor region in Syria [officially designated Operation Orchard; 6 September 2007]. However there have been sufficient leaks and information to indicate that Israel was responsible for the air strikes in Sudan.
Vince Crawley, a spokesman for the United States African Command [USAFRICOM] strenuously denied any involvement of US troops in the attack saying “The U.S. military has not conducted any air strikes, fired any missiles, or undertaken any combat operations in or around Sudan since the U.S. Africa Command formally began operations Oct. 1.”
While on Thursday a US State Department spokesman also revealed that there is nothing to indicate any relationship between the US and the air strikes on Sudan. The spokesman also stressed the importance of halting arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip saying that “smuggling into Gaza was and continued to be a problem, and is something which everybody is working to stop.”
According to Asharq Al-Awsat sources, the [smuggled] arms were flown from Khartoum to Port Sudan, where they were transferred onto 4 boats which would smuggle them via sea, while the rest where placed upon the 17 vehicle convoy which would travel by land. The “unknown” aircrafts, which were later described as being Israeli, attacked the boats sinking them; while the convoy of vehicles was attacked by laser-guided missiles destroying them completely. Dozens of people were killed in the attacks. There is still uncertainly regarding the actual death toll of the attacks, with some estimating the death toll at around 39, while others indicating that the number is much larger than this. A Sudanese official last week claimed that the true figure lay at more than 100 dead, although Asharq Al-Awsat sources ruled out the death-toll being more than 100.
A Sudanese official also said that the attack on the boats “was carried out by something which emerged from the water, attacked the boats, and then submerged under the water again” which suggests that the attack was carried out by a submarine, although this claim is unsubstantiated by other reports. According to a report published in the British newspaper “The Sunday Times” Israel used unmanned aerial drones to carry out the attack.
Although the attacks took place at the end of January, the Sudanese authorities have declined to comment on them for almost two months, prior to the statement last week in which the Sudanese army said that it was aware of the air strikes, and had taken all necessary steps [afterwards to ensure this does not happen again], without clarifying what steps it had taken.
News agencies quoted an unnamed Sudanese source as saying “Everyone knows they are smuggling weapons to the southern part of Egypt.” This official added that one of his colleagues had spoken to a survivor of the air strike on the convoy, and that he revealed that two airplanes had flown over the convoy, then flown back and fired on them destroying all vehicles.
Israeli was deliberately vague with regards to the attack, but did not deny carrying out the air strikes. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said “We are operating in every area in which terrorist infrastructures can be struck” adding “There is no point in elaborating. Everyone can use their imagination. Whoever needs to know, knows.”
With regards to the types of weapons that were being smuggled, sources revealed that these included surface-to-surface missiles, anti-tank rockets and high quality military-grade explosives. Israeli newspapers indicated that some of these missiles had the capability of striking Tel Aviv.