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Sudan's Strategic Significance: A Key Player in the Battle For The Red Sea

Since last April, Sudan has been plunged into conflict. This conflict might escalate into a full-fledged civil war, which would have a significant impact on international trade. Vital resources such as chromite, gold, iron, uranium, and zinc are abundant in Sudan. 

Additionally, it is home to two significant Red Sea ports, Port Sudan and Port Suakin, which handle 20% of all container cargo annually. Despite its seeming simplicity as a power grab, this battle represents a significant trend in global affairs. The UN special representative for Sudan reports that after three days of violence between different factions around the country, at least 185 people have died and 1,800 more have been injured.

Historical Context 

Witnesses said that on Saturday, Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces engaged the army outside the capital city of Wad Madani, pushing an offensive that has created a new front in the eight-month-old conflict and prompted thousands of people to escape. As it attempted to rebuff the attack that began on Friday, the Sudanese army, which has occupied the city since the beginning of the conflict, conducted airstrikes on RSF soldiers east of the city, the state capital of Gezira. 

The witnesses said that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) replied with artillery and that they saw RSF reinforcements heading toward the conflict. In recent days and weeks, RSF soldiers have also been spotted in settlements west and north of the city, according to locals. According to the UN, 14,000 people have left the region so far, and a small number of them have already made it to neighboring cities. Mostly from Khartoum, half a million individuals had fled to Gezira for safety.

Great Power Competition

Omar al-Bashir controlled Sudan for a long time. By the conclusion of his rule, he was dependent on two opposing security forces: the Arab militia formerly known as the Janjaweed but subsequently renamed the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (saf). The SAF and RSF turned against Bashir after widespread protests occurred in December 2018 and removed him from office in April 2019. 

Following Bashir’s downfall, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, assumed leadership of the RSF and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the saf. Together, the two oversaw Sudan, breaking their promises to give the people more control. Hemedti attempted to seize total authority in April 2023 after growing disinterested in holding a secondary position. He dispatched two thousand troops to Burhan’s home. After a gunfight, there was a national conflict. Fighting broke out at a military facility south of the city, Khartoum, on Saturday morning. Since then, millions of people have been forced to stay in their houses or any other place they may find refuge, and in many places, supplies are running scarce. Following their explosions on April 17, al-Shaab and al-Khartoum hospitals have ceased to provide emergency care. Staff and patients at Al-Shaab Hospital, which is close to the army command headquarters, suffered injuries as a result of ongoing bombardment.

Key Players

Europe trained border guards, provided technology, and shared intelligence with Sudanese authorities under the Khartoum Process. Europe said that the technology was used to identify forged immigration documents. However, the majority of migrants passing through Sudan are only traversing the desert unaccompanied. 

As a result, formal border procedures were not the main focus of Sudanese border agent training. Hemedti’s ascent was aided by the EU’s treatment of him as a head of state despite his position as second in charge. Numerous people have denounced this relationship due to RSF war crimes. The EU formally severed relations with the organization in 2019 when it attacked protestors, but it appears that its influence continued. “While openly positive relations between Western democracies and Hemedti are no longer possible, his emissaries are still discreetly welcomed in European chancelleries.”

Implications for Regional Stability

“A humanitarian crisis” is being created by power and water outages, “the inability of those injured to reach hospitals,” and other factors. Additionally, there have been reports of intense combat near Khartoum International Airport, where passenger jets have been entirely destroyed, according to satellite images. Sudan’s airspace was blocked by the Civil Aviation Authority on Saturday following an attack on the airport. 

Israel suffers when trade across the Red Sea is disrupted, but Europe is also directly attacked. The biggest shipping corporations in the world declared that they will stop shipping through the Red Sea and instead sail across South Africa to reach the West following the Houthis’ audacious proclamation on December 9. The Swiss-Italian Mediterranean Shipping Co., Danish A.P. Moller-Maersk, French shipping firm cma cgm, and Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd, with its headquarters located in Hamburg, make up four of the top five shipping corporations. The Houthis are able to harm Germany in a manner that Hezbollah is unable to by interfering with Red Sea trade.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, the position Sudan will take is still unknown. Iran may expand its influence in Sudan by taking advantage of the ongoing strife there. Burhan might be supplied by it, which would give him the upper hand yet tie him to Tehran. Alternatively, the RSF can accept the win and carry on its diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two countries that are supposed to support Germany. With yet another migration crisis affecting Europe, a large number of Sudanese refugees are fleeing for their lives. This is observed by Europe together with Iran’s Red Sea policy. Germany can choose to intervene personally and persuade Sudan to support it. The people of Sudan may protest in the future, which might influence Khartoum’s stance. 

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