Bilateral relations between Algeria and Iran have grown ever since ties were restored 21 years ago. They were initially severed in 1993 after the North African country accused Tehran of supporting the armed wing of the Islamic Salvation Front during the civil war, brought on by the Algerian military's decision to cancel elections the year before. Yet prior to this, relations were also amicable and Algeria played a leading role in mediating between Iran and the US during the embassy hostage crisis which led to the signing of the Algiers Accord in 1981.
The two countries have since developed economic and cultural ties having signed a number of agreements and have even cooperated politically, such as in 2012 when Iran and Algeria were the only countries to object to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC) decision to suspend Syria's membership over the government's brutal response to the uprising which hoped to unseat President Bashar Al-Assad. Algeria has also been an almost consistent supporter of Iran's rights to develop peaceful nuclear technology.
However, the most noteworthy political collaborations, at least claimed by Morocco, has been Algeria and Iran's support of the Polisario Front, the independence movement in the disputed Western Sahara territory. These accusations by Morocco prompted the kingdom to sever diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2018 with further claims by Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita that Lebanon's Hezbollah was also implicated. The Lebanese movement's "actions seek to undermine Moroccan interests and constitute an attack on the country's territorial integrity," the minister said. The Algerians, for their part, had been suspected of allowing Iran's embassy in Algiers to provide support for the Polisario.
Rabat has always had unsteady relations with Iran ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and had cut off ties with Iran previously such as in 2009 after the Iranian embassy was being used as a platform for spreading Shia Islam in the country. A year after the founding of the Islamic Republic, Iran chose to recognise the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) which was proclaimed by the Polsario Front in 1976.
It was therefore not much of a surprise when Iran welcomed Algeria's own decision to sever ties with Morocco in August over its "hostile tendencies" towards Algiers which included claims of supporting Kabyle separatists and Morocco's use of Israeli spyware Pegasus to monitor Algerian officials and citizens.
مع وزير خارجية إيران، السيد حسين أمير عبد اللهيان، تباحثنا حول سبل تعزيز العلاقات بين البلدين واستغلال الفرص والامكانيات المتاحة من الجانبين لترقية التعاون الاقتصادي، إلى جانب التشاور بخصوص القضايا الاقليمية والدولية ذات الاهتمام المشترك. pic.twitter.com/EJx9eD5UUw
— Ramtane Lamamra | رمطان لعمامرة (@Lamamra_dz) September 25, 2021
Meanwhile, Iran and Algeria have been fostering greater ties. In September at the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with his Algerian counterpart, Ramtane Lamamra, where they discussed the need for upgrading bilateral relations. This was followed up as recently as 11 November, when the pair shared a telephone call. According to the Iranian IRNA news agency, Amir Abdollahian praised Algeria over its vote against Israel's accession to the African Union and for its stance on Syria's return to the Arab League. Lamamra also reportedly extended a formal invitation for the Iranian diplomat to visit his country.
Naturally, these developments are of considerable concern for Algeria's neighbour Morocco and for Iran's foe Israel. Following last year's Abraham Accords which saw the UAE, Bahrain and later Sudan normalising tie with Israel, Morocco resumed its own ties with Israel in exchange for recognition by the US of the kingdom's territorial claims over the Western Sahara.
Amid rising tensions between Algeria and Morocco, with some observers speculating a conflict could flare up, Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz will be making an official visit to Rabat tomorrow to sign several security cooperation agreements which may include the purchasing of the Iron Dome defence system.
Ahead of the visit, reports have already surfaced that Israel is looking to set up a military base in Morocco. According to El-Espanol, the proposed base will be situated in the Afso area in the Nador region which is some 68 kilometres south of the Spanish enclave Melilla. Foreign intelligence sources cited in the report warned that the agreement goes well beyond the US-brokered deal signed last year and Spanish authorities also perceive it as a potential security threat against Melilla.
With Morocco's restored ties with Israel and Egypt's recognition of it in 1979, both sides of North Africa now have normalised relations with Israel. In Algeria, there exists an opportunity for Iran to exert its influence in this part of the continent and to attempt to counter or oppose Israel's interests.
Israel for its part also recognises Algeria's gravitation towards Tehran, echoing a similar statement by Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at an August press conference in Casablanca, Tel Aviv's foreign affairs spokesman for Arab media Hassan Kaiba claimed that "Algeria has become, since the beginning of the Arab Spring, a passage for terrorist movements at the instigation of Iran."
"The Algerian-Iranian cooperation worries us especially that Iran aims to infiltrate all countries," Kaiba added.
Algeria has been one of the few Arab states to maintain a pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist stance and recently labelled any normalisation with Israel as "irresponsible" therefore we can expect closer political and maybe military collaboration with Iran in the foreseeable future, this will be contrasted with an increase in Israeli influence and activities in Morocco. Intensified relations between Algeria and Iran amid this North African normalisation further proves what I opined last year, that "Only Arab states aligned with Iran will oppose Zionism".
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.