Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly met Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Nasser Bourita, on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly meeting last September.
The revelation was made by Israel's Channel 13 yesterday, which quoted an anonymous senior Israeli official as saying that Netanyahu and Bourita discussed the normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two countries and what the source described as "the mutual struggle to face the Iranian threat".
The Israeli channel confirmed that Netanyahu tried to push Morocco to invite him to visit the North African country, an effort which failed and Morocco has since vehemently denied.
Netanyahu's office did not refute the news, according to Channel 13, but refused to comment, stating: "We do not comment on having contacts with countries with which we do not have formal relations."
Egyptian press reported that Netanyahu will visit the Moroccan capital, Rabat, in March ahead of the Israeli elections on 9 April, taking advantage of the Iranian-Moroccan diplomatic spat. It is thought Netanyahu could mediate between Morocco and the US to reach a deal that "will end the Western Sahara crisis," which has seen Iranian-backed Polisario Front separatists try to break away from Morocco.
According to the same report, the visit would form part of Netanyahu's efforts to establish closer relations with the Arab and Muslim world, exploiting the "common Iranian threat" and Morocco's respected position to secure broad support for the US' long-awaited "deal of the century".
Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) reported last month that the Tunisian and Algerian authorities had refused to allow Netanyahu's plane pass through Tunisian and Algerian airspaces en route to visit Morocco. The report did not deny the possibility that the decision was made in coordination between both countries.
According to the report, Netanyahu is expected to visit Morocco in March, but the Moroccan government asked him to postpone the visit to a later date.
Western and Arab officials – including France, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – have tried to intervene and exercise pressure on the authorities in Algeria and Tunisia to allow the plane to cross their air space. They promised that the trip would remain secret and would not be leaked to the media, so as not to anger people in the region. However, the rejection thus far remains in place.
In March 2018, Bourita started his official visit to the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), as the first senior Moroccan official ever to visit Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Moroccan minister – whose country has been head of the Al-Quds Committee of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation – took a walk through the mosque's courtyards and visited the Dome of the Rock with a number of Jerusalem officials.
In May, Morocco decided to sever its diplomatic ties with Iran because of the alleged "military support and training" its Lebanese ally Hezbollah is providing to the Polisario Front.
A spokesman for the Moroccan government stated that his country "has evidence and arguments condemning Hezbollah of arming and training Polisario members". He also accused Hezbollah of training Polisario on "street warfare and the formation of commandos, [a] process [which] has been carried out by leaders and experts belonging to Hezbollah".
Rabat re-established relations with Iran in late 2016 after a seven-year rupture, after Morocco accused Iran of "spreading Shiism in the country". In March 2009, Rabat had severed diplomatic ties with Tehran over what has been called as the "unacceptable position Iran took against Morocco, as well as interfering in the country's religious affairs".