Mauritanian and Moroccan media reported that the Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf has asked for an opinion on the kingdom’s desire to establish a military base in Mauritania from his country’s embassy in Nouakchott.
The French website Maghreb-intelligence, which published the news, recalled that in January 2017 Riyadh and Nouakchott signed a military cooperation agreement that included military training, exchange of security information, logistical support, and exchange of visits, expertise, and medical services.
Soon after signing the agreement, Assistant Defence Minister Muhammad Bin Abdullah Al-Ayish said that “this agreement is the starting point for greater and deeper military cooperation between the two countries.”
The independent Mauritanian news agency Alakhbar, said that in recent years, Mauritania has witnessed the visit of several Saudi military delegations, including the visit of Saudi Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Abdul Rahman bin Saleh Al-Bunyan (October 2016). Likewise, Mauritanian officials visited Saudi Arabia.
A reliable source in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, who spoke to Arabi21 and asked not to be named, questioned the credibility of this news, considering that this is merely media propaganda to disrupt the electoral situation in the country.
The source said that “if the issue were related to the UAE, we could believe it, but since talk is about Saudi Arabia, it is unlikely.”
He added that “this information is baseless. There is a limited bilateral military cooperation, and assuming the existence of a Saudi military base in Mauritania is fake and has no goals,” as he put it.
In Morocco, a report of AlAyam 24 newspaper said that “if the news is true, there will be a shift in Mauritanian-Moroccan regional relations given the crisis in relations between Rabat and Riyadh.”
The newspaper quoted the military and strategic expert, Abdul Rahman Al-Makkawi as saying that “such news should be verified, even if issued from sites claiming to be close to sources of intelligence news,” noting that the news was neither confirmed in Nouakchott nor in Riyadh, nor even in Paris which is near the Resolution circles in Mauritania.
The same source added that “the Mauritanians do not accept such news amid preparations for the elections.”
Al-Makkawi pointed out that “the news may have been leaked by those who are affiliated with intelligence agencies with an interest in spreading chaos in Mauritania during the election period. Therefore, we should take a lot of caution towards everything published in this regard.”
The military expert went on saying: “I think that what this site has published is fake news breaking during the Mauritanian elections and the appearance of Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, who is believed to be the man of the next stage in Mauritania. The news came to overthrow the Mauritanian military leadership, in which Ghazouani is the minister of defence.”
Al-Makkawi ruled out that Mauritania would allow such foreign military bases, and if that were the case, it would be granted to more powerful countries such as China, the United States, and France.
The same source explained that the Mauritanian people, as well as the leaders, would not accept such bases on their land, and this decision had not previously been taken by any president since the era of Moktar Ould Daddah who is close to France.
Al-Makkawi pointed out that “Saudi Arabia is going through a suffocating economic crisis that does not allow it to go far. It may participate in military manoeuvres with Mauritania, but the establishment of a military base is an old strategy that is outdated and that no longer attracts even the powerful countries.”