The US and, more discreetly, Israel are working together to prevent the world’s newest state, South Sudan, slipping over what President Barack Obama called “the precipice of civil war,” as clashes in the capital Juba spread Thursday, Dec, 19, across the country. Some 400-600 people have died in the tribal and ethnic warfare since last weekend, when President Salva Kiira accused his ousted deputy Riek Machar of a failed coup.
US and Israeli officers were trying to restore discipline to the South Sudanese army and pursuing a mediation effort to reconcile the quarrel that has triggered brutal warfare between the president’s Dinka tribe and Machar’s Nuer ethnic group.
The bloody clashes have put 100,000 people to flight from their homes. More than 30,000 refugees have reached the camps of the UN Mission in South Sudan at Akobo, in Jonglei state, where Thursday two Indian peacekeepers were killed in an attack on the compound.
Obama said 45 US military personnel had been deployed to South Sudan Wednesday to protect American citizens and property.
Israel has been cagey about its activities in the new republic. However, debkafile’s intelligence sources report that a large party of IDF officers and intelligence experts, some of them IDF reservists, arrived in Juba Thursday, ready to use their years of association with the president and his ex-deputy in pre-independence South Sudan to help resolve their differences.
The American-Israeli plan is to attach to Kiir and Machar the Israeli officers they know and personally trust as former advisers for an attempt to mark out common ground between them in the interests of national and tribal reconciliation.
The US-Israeli operation therefore has as two urgent goals:
1. To lay the foundations for negotiations between the president and his deputy who was sacked with the rest of the governing cabinet in July.
2. To restore discipline to the divided army and put a stop to the bloody battles waged between soldiers of the Dinka and Nuer tribes and prevent their division into two hostile armies.
If these two goals can be accomplished, it may be possible to prevent the conflict tipping over into outright civil war, a peril which began looming large Thursday, Dec. 19, when Machar’s Nueri tribal troops captured the town of Bor 200 kilometers north of Juba.
Money is needed to oil the wheels of reconciliation and so Secretary of State John Kerry announced from the Philippines Thursday night that Washington was transferring $25 million to South Sudan for promoting stability. It was then that the US-Israeli mediation bid began to take off.
President Kiir said: “I am ready for dialogue with anyone who is willing.”
His former deputy Marchar replied: “There was no coup. What took place in Juba was a misunderstanding between presidential guards with their division.”
A misunderstanding between president guards, he implied, was no reason for war or even a falling-out with the president.
However, according to debkafile’s sources, it is still early days and the reconciliation process is fragile enough to be blown over by some unforeseen happening.
South Sudan gained its independence in 2011 after 22 years of fighting the Sudanese government in the north. Its path to independence was laid in 2005 when President George Bush brought Gen. Omar Bachir’s government in Khartoum to sign an agreement for the country’s partition.
President Kiir has maintained close ties with the United States and Israel, depending on their assistance and advice for helping the new republic stand on its feet.
The South has acquired strategic importance for America as an important base and an obstacle in the path of the spread of Al Qaeda and radical Islamic influence out from Khartoum. It is provides the US with a foothold on the western shore of the Red Sea, opposite a mainline Saudi oil route from the Persian Gulf via the Suez Canal.
Israel’s close ties with South Sudan’s Christians go back 50 years and were often expressed in financial aid, diplomatic support, military training and weapons.
One of the constants of Israel’s foreign policy under all its governments has been to cultivate friendships with fellow non-Muslim enclaves on the African continent – and especially on its eastern coast. South Sudan also controls most of the country’s oil reserves and some of the sources of the Nile River, Egypt’s lifeline.
The focus of Israel’s interests in this region tends to fluctuate. At present, its presence in South Sudan is useful for keeping track of the spread of Iranian influence in that part of the continent – most pressingly, to keep an eye on the construction of an Iranian naval and logistic base on the Red Sea coast of northern Sudan.
Together with this base, Tehran was enaled to establish outside Khartoum an industrial complex for the manufacture of arms, including missiles. From Sudan, these products have relatively short supply routes to Iran’s terrorist arms and allies, the Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami.