What’s happened: Defence Minister Benny Gantz has concluded an official visit to Morocco, where he signed what his ministry called a “ground-breaking defence agreement”.
- According to the Ministry of Defence, the MOU provides a “solid framework that formalises defence relations between the countries and establishes a foundation that will support any future cooperation … in the fields of intelligence, industrial collaboration, military training and more”.
- Gantz signed the agreement with Moroccan Minister for National Defence Abdellatif Loudiyi. After the ceremony, Gantz marked the occasion as a “very significant development, which will enable us to work on joint projects … relations between Israel and Morocco should be expanded and enhanced”.
- Gantz met with all of Morocco’s top security officials, including the defence minister, the foreign minister, the director of the intelligence, the military chief of staff and other top military officials. Gantz was accompanied by senior IDF officers in uniform for the first time in Morocco.
- Director of the Political-Security Bureau in the Defence Ministry Zohar Palti told Yediot Ahronot: “We’re talking about an event of a kind that we’ve never seen before.” He added that the improved relations with top Moroccan security and political officials would have “long-term ramifications on our interests in the region”.
- Palti also said: “Israel has a commitment towards Morocco, which over the years has accepted and protected the Jews. That is the foundation. Morocco has fought over the years against terrorism on several fronts, including against al-Qaeda and global jihadist forces. The agreement that we signed will allow us to cooperate in training and information. What we have here is a strategic alliance of knowledge.”
Context: In December 2020 Morocco joined the UAE and Bahrain by establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel. The defence agreement is considered a significant step in deepening their bilateral ties.
- The deal brokered by former President Donald Trump included US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
- The Moroccans hope that Israeli cooperation will help them in their conflict with the Polisario Front, who receive Iranian training and support in Western Sahara.
- An unnamed defence official told Haaretz: “Iran’s activities in this area and in African countries were discussed, as well as Iran’s attempts to establish a presence outside of the Middle East. Here and in other countries it’s understood that there is Iranian subversion.”
- The Moroccans also see Israel as an asset that can help them in their diplomatic engagement with the US.
- The deal compliments the emerging civil ties such as economic cooperation, bilateral tourism, and people-to-people relations.
- It is only the second visit of an Israeli minister to Morocco after Foreign Minister Yair Lapid inaugurated the new Israeli diplomatic mission in Rabat in August. Lapid’s visit was the first of an Israeli minister since the Abraham Accords were signed. He was the first Israeli foreign minister to visit Morocco since Silvan Shalom in 2003.
- Gantz’s visit was a big story in the Arab world and particularly in Palestinian media, who are particularly aggrieved over the overt military nature of Israeli-Moroccan ties.
- However, in Morocco yesterday, French magazine “L’Observateur Du Maroc” and the Arabic newspaper, “Ahdath Maghrebia” both published an op-ed by Gantz that ran on the front page. They cited a quote from Gantz: “The Jewish People will forever respect the Moroccan Kings. Thanks to the brave leadership of King Mohammed VI, the history of the Moroccan Jewry is continuing today.”
Historical context: Morocco had around 260,000 Jews in 1948, but the vast majority were expelled or fled in the years following Israel’s independence.
- However, individual Moroccan Jews have served as ministers and close advisers in the royal court, and it was through covert contacts with Morocco in 1970s that led to Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt.
- Morocco established formal relations following Israel’s interim peace accords with the Palestinians in the 1990s. However, in 2000, after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Morocco ended all diplomatic ties with Israel and closed its mission in Tel Aviv.
Looking forward: Morocco is looking to take advantage of Israeli military hardware and purchase advanced Israeli UAVs, anti-missile systems, and commission an upgrade of some of its fighter jets.
- Israel is looking to replicate relations of this kind with other Arab and Muslim states.
- Regarding Iran, Gantz told Israeli media: “Iran is first and foremost a global problem, then a regional problem, and lastly a problem for Israel. There is a need for the world to address that, and we are working on this level. Our duty in the Iranian context is to influence our partners and hold an ongoing dialogue. Our second duty is to build our military power.”
- Relating to the nuclear talks next week in Vienna, Gantz said: “A better agreement will be an agreement that plugs the holes in the existing agreement on nuclear development, launch systems, its timeframe and what Iran does in the region.”
- Ahead of the talks, Foreign Minister Lapid will meet next week with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.