Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, is on his way to Morocco to “formalize” security cooperation between the two countries.

The two-day trip, which begins on Tuesday, comes less than a year after Morocco normalized ties with Israel in an agreement mediated by former US President Donald Trump’s administration.

In return, Washington recognized the North African kingdom’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara Territory.

Gantz, the first Israeli defense minister to pay an official visit to Morocco, will “sign a memorandum of understanding outlining defense cooperation between the two countries,” his office said.

The trip aims to “lay the foundation for all future security cooperation between Israel and Morocco”, says a source familiar with the visit.

“Until now, there has been some co-operation, it really formalizes it,” the source said.

Morocco controls most of Western Sahara and regards the former Spanish colony as its sovereign territory.

Tensions flared between Morocco and Algeria, supporting Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement.

Algeria severed diplomatic ties with Morocco in August, citing “hostile actions” – an accusation denied by Rabat.

Earlier this month, Algerians accused Morocco of killing three Algerian civilians on a desert highway, raising fears of an escalation.

Polhimario chief Brahim Ghali said last week the movement had decided to step up military operations.

Timing ‘not accidental’

Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, an Israeli expert from Morocco, said the timing of Gantz’s visit and the signing of an agreement were not coincidental.

“It is possible that in the context of the Moroccan-Algerian tension, the Moroccans were the ones who were keen on this,” he said.

“It seems to me that the Moroccans are the ones who are eager to show everyone – their own public, their Algerian rivals, the West – that they are deepening their relationship with Israel,” the University of Tel Aviv professor said.

Morocco and Israel had previously entered into ties in 1993, but Rabat broke them at the start of the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising) in 2000.

Rabat normalized its ties with Israel last December, shortly after similar announcements by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

‘Benefits of Recalibration’

The US-mediated transactions facilitated agreements on political, cultural and economic cooperation.

Last month, Israel’s Ratio Petroleum announced an agreement with Rabat on “exploration activities” outside Dakhla in Western Sahara.

Israel’s Ministry of Defense oversees all security exports, with the Jewish state offering the latest products ranging from assault drones to the famed Iron Dome missile defense system.

One Israeli product, the NSO’s Pegasus spyware, has already made its way to Morocco, according to Amnesty International and Paris-based organization Forbidden Stories.

A Gantz spokesman declined to comment on NSO or other possible defense technologies that will be discussed during the visit.

Pegasus software was also allegedly discovered on the phones of Palestinian officials.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to mobilize civil society, Islamists and the far left in Morocco, with a call for a protest on November 29 against “creeping normalization with Israel” and in support of the Palestinians.

According to Maddy-Weitzman, while Rabat did not abandon the Palestinian cause, “there are too many other interests at stake, too many other benefits to be gained by recalibration”.

“Most of the countries in the region just do not want to be held hostage to the issue anymore, they want to pursue their interests as they define them, and at this point, of course, Israel has a lot to offer,” he said.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday praised Morocco’s proposal on Western Sahara, which indicates new support despite growing tensions over the region with Algeria.

Blinken “noted that we continue to view Morocco’s autonomy plan as serious, credible and realistic, and one potential approach to satisfying the aspirations of the people of Western Sahara,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

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