Israel and Morocco have decided to take the step and formalize a relationship of military cooperation that dates back almost half a century. The Israeli defense minister, former General Benny Gantz, signed a security cooperation memorandum of understanding in Rabat on Wednesday that opens the door to arms sales and crowns the normalization of diplomatic relations that both countries undertook about a year ago under the patronage of the United States. Gantz’s visit, the first by a defense minister, follows that of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid last summer, and coincides with an outbreak of tension between Morocco and Algeria and the Polisario Front. “Until now there has been a certain level of cooperation between Israel and Morocco, the agreement will formalize the bases of military cooperation and military training, industrial and intelligence collaboration,” sources from the Defense Ministry have assured in a statement. “This agreement will allow us to work on joint projects,” Gantz declared after the signing ceremony with his Moroccan counterpart, Abdelatif Ludiyi.
The Moroccan authorities seem to have overcome the social wear and tear that implies embarking on diplomatic relations and officially taking on military agreements with Israel. The largest demonstrations that have been recorded in Morocco for decades have been those held each year in favor of the Palestinian cause, always encouraged by the Moroccan regime. But everything has changed since former US President Donald Trump recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara last December in exchange for Rabat normalizing its relationship with Israel. Things have changed not only in Morocco, but in the region.
From the same day that Trump gave his support to Morocco, the Moroccan authorities suspended the bilateral summit with Spain or High Level Meeting (RAN) that was scheduled to be held seven days later in Rabat. Morocco began to demand that the European Union and, above all, Spain, get out of “its comfort zone” regarding the conflict in Western Sahara. The monarch Mohamed VI himself called on his partners in a speech delivered on November 6 “more daring and clearer positions” regarding the conflict. And Algeria, the main partner and protector of the Polisario Front, suspended diplomatic relations with Morocco in August and cut gas supply to Spain through the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which runs through Morocco.
Morocco continues to hold the pulse with Algeria, with Spain, with the European Union. In return, he enjoys the acquiescence of the Joe Biden Administration. The president of the United States has not withdrawn Trump’s decree. And in addition, his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, received the Moroccan Foreign Minister, Naser Burita, at the White House last Monday and expressed his support for the autonomy plan that he has been presenting since 2007 for Western Sahara.
For the United States, Morocco is a partner with whom it has had excellent relations for decades. And the normalization of Rabat with Israel seems to be above all the diplomatic and migratory crisis that occurred between Morocco and the European Union. The fact that Morocco allowed and supported the entry into Ceuta of 10,000 irregular migrants on May 17, in the midst of the pandemic, did not elicit any condemnation from the White House.
The Administration of Democrat Joe Biden has preserved as a valuable diplomatic asset the Abraham Accords, which under the presidency of Republican Donald Trump led to the normalization of relations between Israel and four Arab countries: United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan (now frozen by their internal crisis) and Morocco. But while the two Gulf monarchies have preferred to put diplomacy and the economy in the foreground, and have left security cooperation in the shadows, Morocco has chosen to keep a low diplomatic profile, with liaison offices rather than embassies, and promote the strengthening of military ties in a sign of strengthening their military capacity in the face of active conflicts in their neighborhood.
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Israel and Morocco have now built visible bridges, although they already established strong ties in the light of day in 1993 in the wake of the Oslo Accords between Israelis and Palestinians. With hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens of Moroccan origin and a small, albeit influential, Jewish community in Morocco, understanding between the two countries has followed a natural course. The diplomatic relationship was, however, suspended after the outbreak of violence in the Second Intifada in 2000.
Security cooperation has meanwhile continued its course since the mid-1970s, when Rabat acquired Israeli tanks. Since then, Morocco bought in 2019 from Israel – the world’s eighth largest exporter of weapons – military radar and communication systems through third countries, according to the newspaper. Haaretz. Washington, which supplies Apache helicopters and F-16 fighters, remains Rabat’s main military supplier above any other country.
Parallel to military cooperation, the Abraham Accords have brought about a rapid reactivation of bilateral relations. The Israeli company El Al established the first direct flights to Marrakech in summer and the Moroccan company RAM plans to start flights between Tel Aviv and Casablanca, the economic capitals of both countries, next month. A month ago, the Israeli oil company Ratio announced that it had obtained the official Moroccan concession to carry out prospecting to explore in the waters of Dakhla (Western Sahara) in search of hydrocarbon deposits.
The Defense Minister is also the one who authorizes in Israel the sale abroad of an espionage system, such as the Pegasus, of the NSO company, whose alleged use by Morocco to investigate opponents, and even heads of foreign States, according to Amnesty International. , unleashed a scandal last summer.
The Moroccan press has speculated that Morocco may acquire Israeli suicide drones, such as those that granted Azerbaijan military superiority over Armenia in its latest armed conflict last year. The hypothesis has also been considered that the Moroccan Army intends to equip itself with the Iron Dome missile defense system, designed by Israel to intercept rockets fired by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas from the Gaza Strip. Neither the Defense Ministry nor the Israeli media have reported on such operations. Of course, neither have the Moroccan authorities.
Morocco was made in 2013, through France, with three Heron reconnaissance drones, manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), for use in Western Sahara. Last June, a Moroccan Hercules C-130 transport plane participated for the first time in an international military exercise in Israel. The United States is the only country whose Armed Forces have put the Iron Dome shield to the test as of 2019, with the essential objective of protecting its bases in sensitive places abroad from rocket attacks. It is a defense system designed to intercept short-range projectiles, which complements David’s Honda shields (medium range) and those of the Arrow system (long range) that it shares with the United States.
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