Page last updated at 20:02 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Did Israel carry out Sudan strike?

By Paul Wood
BBC News, Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has delivered remarks which are being seen by many as confirmation that Israel carried out an airstrike on Sudan in January.

Ehud Olmert, pictured 15 March 2009
Mr Olmert said there was no place where Israel would not act

The bombing apparently targeted smugglers moving a consignment of weapons intended for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

A Sudanese government minister, Mabrook Mubarak Saleem, said the air raid had killed 800 people - although other other reports speak of 39 dead.

There is a pattern with Israeli covert military action abroad: first, blanket denial, then a nod and wink to convey that such action may indeed have taken place.

So stories of an airstrike in Sudan were initially described by the Israeli military as nonsense.

Now, though, we have had a heavy hint from the Israeli prime minister that the reports are accurate.

"There is no place that the state of Israel will not act," said Mr Olmert, "nearby and not that close."

'Vital target'

Israel has long been concerned about weapons smuggling into Sudanese ports, up through Egypt, and then into the Gaza Strip by way of underground tunnels.

map of Egypt, Sudan and Sinai

But to risk flying planes some 1,400km (870 miles) away - and then over the territory of another sovereign state - implies that the target was of vital importance to Israel.

Analysts in Israel suggest the cargo in the convoy of trucks which was blown up could have been surface-to-air missiles, which would have badly dented Israel's air superiority in the recent Gaza offensive.

Or it could have been long-range rockets with a range of some 70km (44 miles), capable of hitting Tel Aviv from Gaza. Israel sometimes accuses Iran of trying to supply such sophisticated weaponry to Palestinian militants.

Even the most conservative reported estimates speak of 39 dead in this bombing - and some Sudanese officials have said the casualties are much higher.

If all this turns out to be true, it will have been a glimpse of the secret war which Israel is constantly fighting to stop the transfer of arms and money to Hamas in Gaza.

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