by Max Fisher

An Israeli F-15 fighter takes off during an air show near Beersheva. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

A military factory in Sudan was destroyed in a mysterious explosion last week, killing two, which the Sudanese government quickly blamed on an Israeli airstrike. It would not have been the first such strike, although Israeli officials did not comment on the explosion. Sudan is thought to provide a conduit for Iranian arms shipments through Egypt to Gaza, where Hamas and other anti-Israeli groups operate.

Tellingly, the next day, Israeli officials accused Sudan of aiding Iran-backed militant groups in the region. Also tellingly, the response from Arab states — which, though not exactly enamored of unilateral Israeli strikes, also tend to be wary of Iran — has been “muted.”

On Sunday, the Times of London published what it’s portraying as the definitive, detailed, inside story: Eight Israeli F-15 jets flew along the Red Sea and then east into Sudan, where four bombed a munitions facility, according to the paper’s anonymous sources. The newspaper also reported that the Sudanese facility constructed missiles and was run by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

But is there something deeper and more significant behind the attack than just destroying a weapons depot? It can be difficult to separate reporting from informed analysis, and analysis from speculation, with this sort of story.

Here are a few theories, but to be clear, these are not mutually exclusive and it’s possible that none, one, or a combination of them, has some truth. It’s also possible that some of them merely provided added incentive to the attack, the primary motive of which may have simply been to destroy the munitions:

1) “Rehearsal” for “forthcoming” Israeli strike on Iran. The Times of London deploys some passive voice in its report, saying the strike “was seen as a dry run for a forthcoming attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities [and] has destroyed an Iranian-run plant making rockets and ballistic missiles in Sudan.” The Sudanese site was further from Israel than are Iran’s suspected nuclear sites, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy pointed out to’s Armin Rosen.

2) A warning to Iran. The same Times of London story, further down, portrays the strike as a show of force meant to intimidate Iran into cooperating on nuclear negotiations, rather than as a “dry run” for a pre-determined attack on the country. It quotes an unnamed “defense official,” presumably Israeli, as saying, “This was a show of force but it was only a fraction of our capability — and of what the Iranians can expect in the countdown to the spring.”Read More