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Israel exploits the Algerian-Moroccan rift to push them further apart

September 29, 2022 at 9:00 am

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]

Since former President Donald Trump launched his Abraham Accords initiative to help Israel normalise ties with its Arab neighbours, the Apartheid State of Israel has been making gains and exploiting that initiative as much as it can. Lately, Israel is projecting itself as a military regional superpower, offering its military technologies, much of which is American-funded and American-made, to different countries in the region which are desperate to protect themselves against unfounded threats and imaginary enemies.

The best example of this is the latest military contracts between Morocco and Israel, centred on security and military cooperation.

Last July, Israel’s Chief of Staff, Aviv Kochavi, visited Morocco to meet his Moroccan counterpart. Israeli Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, visited the North African country in November 2021 and signed a security deal with Morocco, in which Tel Aviv will supply Rabat with different military technologies, including drones. Just last week, it has been reported that Tel Aviv is already delivering air systems technologies to Rabat as part of that security deal. They are said to include drone-mounted systems for the Kingdom’s Turkish and Israeli-supplied drones. The thirty-month contract is said to be worth around $70 million.

This expansion of Israeli military presence in North Africa is irritating Algeria, Morocco’s eastern neighbour and its arch-rival. Some observers believe the military dimension of the Rabat-Tel Aviv relations will make any rapprochement between Algeria and Morocco more difficult. To make matters worse, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, while visiting Morocco on 11 August 2021, openly criticised Algeria’s developing ties with Iran. Algerians were furious, not for being criticised by Israel but by the fact that criticism came from next door Rabat, instead of from Tel Aviv. The Algerian Foreign Ministry accused Rabat of dragging Israel into the dispute between the two countries in what it described as a “dangerous adventure”.

READ: Morocco king invited to Arab League Summit in Algeria

Algeria does not have any relations with Israel and considers it an enemy to the entire Arab world, particularly the Palestinians, who continue to suffer every imaginable mistreatment under the apartheid Israeli occupation. Algeria has always been a strong supporter of the Palestinian people, and seeing Israel widening its presence in Morocco, on its western borders, is a national security threat and selling out of the Palestinian cause.

Last year, in the wake of the devastating forest fires, Algiers accused groups it said were linked to Israel and Morocco of deliberately starting the fires which killed dozens and burnt hundreds of acres of forests, particularly in the east of the country.

In August 2021, days after Lapid’s Rabat visit, Algeria cut all diplomatic and political ties with Morocco, taking the disputes with its western neighbour to new heights that might be irreparable for a while.

But Algeria, which is hosting the next League of Arab States (LAS) Summit, planned to take place on 1-2 November, has invited King Mohammed VI of Morocco to take part. An Algerian Envoy delivered the official invitation, yesterday, 27 September. Some media reports have already said that the King will attend the Summit. Could this be a breakthrough in the bilateral relations between Rabat and Algiers? It is hard to say.

Many believe that inviting the King to the LAS Summit in Algiers is a formality, since Algeria, in this instance, is the host of the Summit and LAS protocols obliges it to invite all member states, including Morocco. But it is doubtful that the King will even travel to Algiers and, if he does, it is unlikely the visit will lead to any restoration of diplomatic and political ties with Algeria any time soon.

Algeria strongly opposed the wave of normalisation between Israel and some Arab countries in the context of the Abraham Accords. Morocco accepted the Abraham Accords, in exchange for the US’s official recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara. Algeria, on the other hand, considers the Accords a sell-out of the Palestinian cause, for no real return to the people of Palestine under Israeli occupation. It also sees the dispute over the Western Sahara as a regional issue that has no room for external meddlers.

In 2020 Morocco, the United States and Israel signed a declaration normalising relations between Tel Aviv and Rabat. And, on 10 December of that year, President Trump formally signed the US’s recognition of Western Sahara as a part of Morocco, in an announcement that infuriated Algeria.

Now that Algeria is inviting Morocco to attend the LAS Summit, it is seen by some observers as a glimmer of hope, while many others think the rift between Rabat and Algiers has gone too far, and it will take more than a visit by King Mohammed VI to participate in the LAS Summit in Algeria to remedy.

The most complicating factor coming into play in the already difficult and murky Algerian-Moroccan relations is the Israeli factor, particularly its security and military dimensions.

READ: Morocco lifts anti-dumping duties from Jordan, imposes it on Egypt

Algerians believe Morocco is disturbing the traditional balance of power by welcoming Israeli involvement in a regional dispute that should be settled within the framework of the United Nations. Algeria does not accept Morocco’s claims of Western Sahara, calling, instead, for the people of the desert strip to decide their own future. Algerians also believe that Morocco has bad intentions by sparking what they see as a regional arms race between their country and Morocco, simply because Israel is gaining a foothold in next door Morocco.

Indeed, King Mohammed VI has repeatedly called for improved ties with Algeria, most recently last July. In a statement marking his 22nd anniversary of accession, he said, “We aspire to work with the Algerian presidency so that Morocco and Algeria can work hand in hand to establish normal relations between two brotherly peoples.” But Algerians believe little of this when compared to what Rabat is actually doing in terms of its increasing ties with Israel.

Furthermore, Algiers thinks Tel Aviv is exploiting its rift with Rabat to further divide the two countries, and will make any future improvement in relations more difficult, if not impossible, in the foreseeable future.

Any Israeli presence in North Africa, to Algerians, is unwelcome, unless the wider issue of the Palestinian people is settled in a way that is acceptable to the Palestinians, in accordance with international law. It should also be mentioned that Algeria has been leading the efforts to expel Israel from the African Union, therefore, for it to, now, accept closer Israel-Morocco links is unthinkable, at least for now.

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