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Morocco And Israel Enter A New Era Of Ties

Until 2020, Morocco and Israel have maintained informal relations, which have always been at odds with the Palestinian issue. While the media talks about normalising relations between the two states, it is nothing but a resumption of ties that existed years ago.

Until 2020, Morocco and Israel have maintained informal relations, which have always been at odds with the Palestinian issue. While the media talks about normalising relations between the two states, it is nothing but a resumption of ties that existed years ago.

Following a 2020 deal to normalise ties between Morocco and Israel, the two countries have been moving forward with strategic plans to strengthen partnerships in the industry, technology, security, culture, and education sectors. 

As part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords signed in 2020, the United States has agreed to recognise Morocco’s authority over Western Sahara in return for Morocco’s normalisation of ties with Israel. However, Morocco’s deals with the Israeli apartheid state were deemed a massive stab in the back of the Palestinian people.

Today, the two countries have publicly decided to showcase their historical bonds to the world. These ties are also an excellent opportunity for Israel to expand its soft power outside the Middle East, especially in North Africa, a predominantly pro-Palestine part of the world.

Historical ties between Morocco and Israel

Morocco’s normalisation with Israel is about a resumption of relations. Let’s see why. 

Morocco and Israel have shared deep historical ties for centuries. Over a million Jews were born in Morocco, and thousands live in Morocco, making it the only North African country with the most Jewish community. Jews occupy an essential place within Moroccan society. 

When late Moroccan King Hassan II took power in 1961, relations between Morocco and Israel were characterised by a rapprochement towards the Israeli government. Hassan II was among the first Arab leaders to call for the recognition of Israel, and his relationship with Israel was a long-standing one. 

Owing to the king’s connections in Israeli intelligence, he made use of it to seek an ally against Moroccan dissidents and for support in the Western Sahara issue. The Israeli Mossad – a secret service – had privately helped King Hassan sideline domestic political opponents who fought to establish a republic. 

When a few coup attempts targeted the King, Israel provided Morocco with hundreds of tanks against the Polisario guerillas fighting to liberate Western Sahara. According to Israeli newspapers Maariv and Haaretz, Mossad had a key role in the kidnapping and assassination of Moroccan opponent and leader Mahdi Ben Barka.

It is also important to note that following the first Oslo Accord in 1994, King Hassan II secretly established diplomatic relations with Israel, making it the Kingdom the third Arab country to establish ties with the Jewish state. Following the death of Hassan II, his son, Mohammed VI, partially broke these relations by bringing support to the Palestinians, especially during the Second Intifada due to the outbreak of violence. 

However, on another part, the current king maintained informal relations with Israel for security cooperation. In the 1970s, Morocco bought battle tanks, which resumed the former collaboration between the two countries.

Morocco’s openness to Israel is not new. The two countries have shared inner historical, cultural, and religious ties for centuries. The Jewish community played a crucial role in normalising relations with Israel. Though a minority, Jews are a significant part of Morocco’s heritage and identity.

Indeed, their rights are recognised by the 2011 Constitution. Moreover, last Wednesday, King Mohammed VI announced the recognition of Morocco’s Jewish community as a component of national culture, based on a statement from the royal palace. This move will lead to the establishment of new representative bodies for the Jewish community, namely:

  • “The National Council of the Moroccan Jewish Community” specialising in community affairs, safeguarding heritage sites and forming regional committees.
  • “The Commission of Moroccan Jews Living Abroad” meant to foster ties with Moroccan Jews worldwide.
  • “The Foundation of Moroccan Judaism” aimed to promote Jewish- Moroccan heritage and traditions.

The Jews in Morocco date back to 70 CE, and the Jewish minority that lives in Morocco today amounts to about 3,000. Jewish communities grew significantly in 1492 following their expulsion from Spain. From 1948, they then started migrating to the Occupied Palestinian territories. However, even if they left, Jews still hold Moroccan nationality. Today, the Jewish community lives mostly in Casablanca.

For decades, relations between Israel and Morocco have mainly been cultural. Recent diplomatic ties have led the two countries to expand their cooperation in the fields of security, industry, science, and the environment.

Israel and Morocco ink 13 memorandums of understanding on tech, agriculture, and climate

This year, Israeli and Moroccan officials signed 13 agreements in technology, agriculture, and climate, according to Israel Hayom.

On 23rd May 2022, 150 Israeli and Moroccan officials attended the Connect to Innovate conference’s opening day in Casablanca. The two countries signed 13 memorandums of understanding.

The three-day conference included discussions and lectures on agri-food technology, water technology, energy and climate technology, and supply chain logistics. The possibility of hiring Moroccans in “high-tech” Israeli companies through remote work was also discussed.

However, it is not the first time Morocco and Israel have signed partnership deals. Last November, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited Morocco to ink a defence deal. During his visit, Gantz met with Moroccan Defence Minister Adbelatif Loudiyi and Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita. It was the first formal visit of an Israeli official to Morocco since diplomatic ties were established between the two countries in 2020. 

The defence deal aims to increase arms sales from Israel to Morocco. The agreement will also allow partnership in intelligence, industrial cooperation, and military training. Moreover, the Moroccan military announced it had purchased the Israeli Skylock Dome anti-drone air defence system. This way, Israelis can produce drones in Morocco in large quantities and at a much lower price. 

According to El Español, the Moroccan National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines also signed an agreement with the Israeli company Ratio Petroleum Energy. The deal aims to give the company an exclusive oil and gas exploration license on the Dakhla coast in Western Sahara.

On 18th July 2022, Aviv Kochavi, the Israeli chief of staff, arrived in Morocco, aiming to increase further military cooperation in exercises and training and the operational and intelligence fields. According to GlobesIsrael Aerospace Industries already supplied the Moroccan military with Barak MX air and missile defence systems in a deal worth more than $500 million.

Kochavi’s visit came after Morocco helped mediate an agreement for the West Bank’s Allenby Bridge crossing to be opened daily by the end of September to help ease travel for Palestinians. So far, Palestinians from the occupied West Bank who do not own permits to enter Israel need to use that crossing into Jordan to travel abroad, but the limited hours to access the border can create delays and complications.

Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation network (KAN) said Kochavi’s meeting with Moroccan officials will also include talks on Iran’s influence in the region.

Israel launches “Pilot Programme” to attract Moroccan workers

Last June, Israel’s interior minister Ayelet Shaked visited Morocco. Her three-day visit aimed to secure Moroccan workers to go to Israel to work in the construction and nursing sectors. Shaked met with Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita in Rabat.

She announced that Israel intends to launch a Pilot Programme. Shaked added, “We’re lacking about 40,000 workers in ten different professions”, so she hopes to receive “15,000 Moroccan construction workers in a few batches.”

However, her visit sparked controversy. BDS Morocco, a movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions, condemned Morocco’s hosting of ‘war criminal’ Ayelet Shaked. Indeed, in a press release, BDS Morocco exposed the politician’s racist history by stating, “Israel’s interior minister Ayelet Shaked is a war criminal and a terrorist known for her frequent calls to cleanse Palestinian people.”

Shaked is known for being a hard-right politician with a history of anti-Arab statements. The movement refers to a 2021 statement in Hebrew published on Facebook by Shaked.

“Behind every terrorist stands dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. (…) Now, this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there. They have to die and their houses should be demolished so that they cannot bear any more terrorists.”

Ayelet Shaked deleted her post and said her statement had been misunderstood and mistranslated from Hebrew.

BDS Morocco denounced Israel’s move and labelled it as “making Moroccans hostages for the Zionist entity.” 

Israeli i24NEWS channel opens first two offices in Morocco

Last June, Israel-based news outlet i24NEWS opened its first two offices in Rabat and Casablanca, Morocco. It became the first Israeli media company to open in Morocco, owned by Moroccan-French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi. He was born to a Jewish family and then immigrated to France and Israel.

The news channel CEO Frank Frank Melloul announced the offices’ opening during a ceremony in Rabat. Melloul stated that the company is “excited to open branches in Morocco,” given the “very engaged and active Moroccan audience on social media networks”.

According to Melloul, this new move will help broaden the Israeli channel coverage in Morocco. He added that their worldwide offices allow them to cover events “from different angles and perspectives, expand and diversify our content offerings, and dive into the important and interesting stories.”

Besides Tel Aviv, i24NEWS broadcasts in France, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates.

Morocco to open its first embassy in Israel

According to the Times of Israel, Morocco is set to open its first embassy in Israel. At a press conference, the Israeli Foreign Minister said the Moroccan embassy’s opening in Jerusalem would likely occur during Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita’s visit to Israel this summer.

Following the normalisation of ties between the two countries in 2020, Israel and Morocco opened liaison offices in February and August 2021. However, it still has to be upgraded to an embassy.

Until 2020, Morocco and Israel have maintained informal relations, which have always been at odds with the Palestinian issue. While the media talks about normalising relations between the two states, it is nothing but a resumption of ties that existed years ago.

The Abraham Accords have enabled Morocco and Israel to resume political discussions, reopen direct air routes, and sign trade agreements and defence and cybersecurity deals. A new era is beginning between both countries.

The rapprochement has opened new talks that could shape the future of the Middle East, especially that of Palestine, which has been marginalised as it may close the way to hopes of peace and freedom in the Occupied Palestinian territories.

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