Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sudan Greets Iran Ships

Updated October 30, 2012, 5:21 p.m. ET.

Sudan, After Blast, Greets Iran Ships .

By NICHOLAS BARIYO
Wall Street Journal

KAMPALA, Uganda—Iranian naval commanders met Tuesday with their counterparts in Sudan to discuss joint training exercises, in the wake of explosions at a weapons factory that Sudan blamed on Israeli jets.

New before-and-after satellite images that have emerged following the blast, meanwhile, indicate an attack there could have targeted a large shipment of arms, the images' provider said.

The Iranian commanders were part of a delegation from two Iranian warships that docked at Port Sudan on Monday. The visit and the training exercise were planned, Sudanese officials said, and the ships departed from Iran in September. But the meetings take on a new significance after Sudan alleged that Israeli aircraft bombed a weapons factory in its capital, Khartoum, on Oct. 24.

The explosions rocked the Yarmouk Military Complex, killing at least two people. Sudan initially blamed the fire on an internal explosion. Soon after, however, it said Israel was suspected of hitting the plant with four fighter jets using high-tech jamming devices. Israel hasn't commented on the incident.

Israel views Sudan, a longtime ally of Iran, as a conduit for arms through Egypt to the militant group Hamas in Gaza Strip, according to several international and regional analysts. Iran, meanwhile, remains a major supplier of weapons to Sudan, according to Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based publication.

Rabie Abdelaty, the spokesman for Sudan's information ministry, denied Tuesday that Sudan has any connection to the militants in Egypt or Gaza, accusing Israel of spreading "false propaganda" against Sudan.

In the past three years, Sudan has accused Israel of carrying out several airstrikes inside its territory, the most recent one being in May, in which an alleged arms dealer was killed as he drove through Port Sudan.

New satellite images showed 40 shipping containers stacked at the Yarmouk compound in the days before the attack, according to the U.S.-based Satellite Sentinel Project, a partnership between the Enough Project, a human-rights organization, and DigitalGlobe, DGI +2.00%a provider of imagery products and services.

Afterward, images showed six large craters where the containers had been, the group said, adding that the site bore marks of a hit by air-delivered munitions. The group said it couldn't confirm that the containers had been on-site the night of the attack but that the satellite imagery is consistent with the presence of a "highly volatile cargo in the epicenter of the explosions."

Israeli intelligence believes that Yarmouk, one of two publicly known state-owned weapons factories in Khartoum, is the main source of missiles used by Hamas, according to security officials in Kenya and Uganda.

Gen. Sameh Seif Elyazal, a former Egyptian army general, said his understanding was that a strike was carried out against short-range missiles being assembled in the factory "under Iranian supervision," bound for Hamas as well as Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The general told the Associated Press that his analysis was based on "private conversations with Israeli officials" conveyed to him through others. He didn't elaborate, the AP said.

On Monday, Sudan's Foreign Ministry denied that the bombed plant was being operated by Iran. The Sudanese government has said the Yarmouk plant produces "ordinary weapons."

The Iranian warships' visit will give Sudanese armed forces an opportunity to learn advanced naval warfare and air-defense technology in the wake of Israel's alleged attack, Sudanese spokesman Mr. Abdelaty said Tuesday. He declined to discuss details of the meetings between the Sudanese and Iranian naval officials.

"Sudan will confront the aggression started by Israel," Mr. Abdelaty said. Sudan has also called on the United Nations to condemn Israel over the attacks, he said.

The Iranian warships' arrival is within the framework of "friendly relations and goodwill of naval forces" and would support "strong political, security and diplomatic relations between the two states," Sudanese army spokesman Sawarmi Khalid Saad told Suna, Sudan's state news agency.

The ships arrived to "convey a message of peace and friendship" and "to provide safety at sea in light of increasing maritime terrorism," Iran's state-controlled news agency, IRNA, reported Monday. Iran has also deployed a navy fleet off the East African coast of Djibouti to fight piracy.

Israel accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons with the intention of striking Israel's nuclear facilities. Iran, which remains on the receiving end of a U.S.-led international condemnation, denies the accusations.

Meanwhile, Iran's regular army began a two-day ground and air military exercise aimed at upgrading its combat readiness and increasing its deterrence against possible attacks, the AP reported.

Iranian state TV said the drills involve forces in a wide region in western Iran near the Iraqi border. It showed troops parachuting from helicopters near the towns of Sarpol-e Zahab and Qasr-e Shirin, about 700 kilometers west of Tehran.

Write to Nicholas Bariyo at nicholas.bariyo@dowjones.com

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