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Israel's 'security and military' interests are advancing in its normalisation with Morocco

Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (R) shakes hands with Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz (L) in the capital Rabat on 24 November 2021 [FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images]
Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (R) shakes hands with Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz (L) in the capital Rabat on 24 November 2021 [FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images]

Morocco has become the first Arab country to sign an open military agreement with Israel. No other Arab country has yet agreed to take such an overt step; Egypt, Jordan and other Arab countries have very secretive military relations with the occupation state.

Israeli-Moroccan cooperation began in the 1960s based on what was known at the time as the "common threats" faced by both parties, at the forefront of which was Egypt led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Israel helped Morocco in many ways against what they considered to be another common enemy, Algeria. In addition, the secret migration of Jews from Morocco to Israel was organised, which helped to bring the two countries closer and strengthen security relations.

The Mossad spy agency has led in cooperation with Morocco because it is responsible for relations with countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations. From the 1970s onwards, King Hassan II, the father of the current Moroccan monarch, worked as a secret mediator between Israel, Egypt, Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Israel also helped Morocco fight the Polisario Front in Western Sahara. The previous US administration sought to promote recognition of the annexation of Western Sahara by Morocco but was unsuccessful. Unlike other Arab countries, keeping relations secret for a long time was not only the result of common interests, but also because of Moroccan Jews living in Israel.

The beginnings of the first "official" diplomatic relations between Israel and Morocco date back to 1995, after the signing of the Oslo Accords. These relations were severed after the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada in 2000 but were restored with the signing of normalisation agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain last year. At that time, King Mohammed VI was persuaded to take this step, not only because of the precedent set by the Gulf States, but also due to the promise of US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

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At the end of 2020, many political agreements were signed between Rabat and Tel Aviv; bilateral working groups were formed; and many political, military and security visits were made. These involved Israeli Minister of Defence Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and the Director General of his ministry, Alon Oshbis, as well as others. Many civil society activities took place, as a measure of what the two sides called a warm peace. It is clear that Israeli Moroccan relations have gone beyond the trial phase.

It is no secret that Israel's interest lies in signing an open military agreement with Morocco, to be another pillar strengthening its relations and position in the Middle East in the face of Iran. The army and Mossad are responsible for this and want to develop independent contact with the security forces in Morocco and expand their strategic military dialogue. Maybe Morocco also wants to confront Algeria, which supports the Polisario fighting for independence in Western Sahara.

Israel, Morocco sign defence deal amid normalised ties - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Israel, Morocco sign defence deal amid normalised ties – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

There is also an international diplomatic dimension. Morocco wants to show the Joe Biden administration in Washington its commitment to normalisation, in order to ensure the implementation of former US President Donald Trump's decision regarding Western Sahara.

However, there is clear public opposition in Morocco to normalisation with Israel. Organisations that raise funds for the Palestinians and raise awareness of their cause have an active lobby in the Moroccan parliament. As far as they are concerned, normalisation with Israel is treason.

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Nevertheless, the colonial-occupation state continues to celebrate the normalisation with Morocco, especially its security and military aspects, as an unprecedented breakthrough in terms of finding a foothold in the Maghreb and North Africa. It opens the way to normalisation with other countries. It makes no secret that it benefits from a stronger relationship with Morocco, as was seen with Gantz's recent visit to Rabat. This was a throwback to the 1990s, when diplomatic relations were established between the two countries which, despite being severed officially at a later date, continued behind closed doors.

Given Israel's habit of poking its nose in other countries' business, Gantz's visit received wide coverage in the Arab media. It was free publicity for the growing normalisation with Morocco and the enhancement of Israel's position in the region in terms of recognition, the legitimacy of its existence and regional cooperation.

One hidden aspect of the relationship is the issue of visas to thousands of Moroccans who expect to visit Israel, even before its embassy in Rabat is operating formally. In numbers exceeding expectations, many have already visited the Israeli mission to get visas, even though there are not enough personnel on site to process their applications.

Israeli normalisation with Morocco is intended to be a cornerstone of the occupation state's security web across the Middle East-North Africa region, along with the other states involved in the "Abraham Accords". Hence the warm welcome to the deal given by Israel's political, security and military circles.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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AfricaArticleIsraelJordanMiddle EastMoroccoOpinion
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