Morocco's 'Unabashed' Relations With Israel

Published July 27th, 2022 - 05:23 GMT
Israeli tourists in drove to Morocco
Israeli tourists arrive at the Marrakech-Menara International Airport on the first direct commercial flight between Israel and Morocco, July 25, 2021. (AFP)

The Moroccan government maybe very happy its right at the far-end of the western Arab world because it means it can do stuff other states in the region would be circumspect about.

Take the issue of its full-bloodied normalization process with Israel started through a diplomatic agreement, initialed in December 2020 under the so-called Abraham Accords whose objective is to ease the entry of the Jewish state into a supposedly hostile Arab region.

The accords are proving to be a Godsend for Morocco. As soon as they were signed, normalization between the two countries swiftly got underway. Official agreements sealed in the White House and through American blessing, were quickly welcomed by the UAE, Bahrain. Morocco and Sudan.

Warm peace

The Abraham Accords had come to mean "warm peace" between Israel and these countries and differed from the "peace" signed first with Egypt in 1978 and with Jordan in 1994 that essentially remained cool even on the state levels. Under the Abraham Accords, it became full throttle peace. It looked as if Bahrain, UAE and now Morocco wanted to make full use of their new relations closed, well, since Israel was established in 1948 and drove out hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into the neighboring Arab countries.

But closure no more! The new accords meant the opening up of regional borders, of diplomatic representation and embassies, flights between Tel Aviv Ben Gurion's Airport and different Arab capitals as well as lots and lots of visits by Israeli officials, politicians, ministers, prime ministers and presidents to Manama, Abu Dhabi, and Rabat and maybe Sudan, although these were not openly declared.

Morocco here we come!

Nowhere has this warm peace become more open than in Morocco. It might be because of context and procedure. There has always been a "chummy" relations between Morocco and Israel – and has existed through the last years and decades. Is it because a sizable minority of Jews always inhabited Morocco going back to hundreds and hundreds of years ago? Maybe.

In the 1960s Morocco had an estimated 300,000 Jews but most of these eventually went to Israel. Today, there is only about 3000 Jews living in the country. However, about one million of the Israeli population is made up of those from Moroccan origin.

Is this why there is a special relation between Israel and Morocco? After 1993 when there was the Oslo peace signing between the Palestinians and Israelis, Rabat established representatives offices with Israel. However, these were shut down after the year 2000 because of the Palestinian Intifada, but under-the-table relations continued between the two countries because of Moroccan Jews wanting to visit their country of their origin.

Into The Open

All this changed after the Abraham Accords and relations increased top speed in 2021 and today and across all political, economic and cultural sectors. In the field of politics and military cooperation, relations became marked. Diplomatic relations established the normalizations of relations that went into high mode characterized in direct flight connections between Israel and Morocco. Different Israeli airline companies such as El Al, Israir and Arkia started flights to different Moroccan cities such as Casablanca, Rabat and Marrakech.

Jewish visitors are expected to reach to 200,000, a figure forecast by the Economist. This is a huge spike from the yearly 50,000 annual Jewish tourists that regularly went to Morocco from Israel since the late 1990s. Many Israeli government ministers have gone to Morocco after the establishment of diplomatic relations.

First is first, the then Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Morocco in August 2021 to establish an Israeli Liaison Office in Rabat seen as a prelude to opening up full-fledged embassies in the two countries and this was followed in November by the   Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, and later in 2021 the Minister of Economy Orna Barbivai, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and whole host of other officials visited Rabat. Today, Israel is accepting Moroccan health workers to take care of their elderly! 

They visited Morocco to strengthen relations between the two countries and graciously met by Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita  Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit and the Economy Minister Nadia Fettah as a way of cementing relations between Rabat and Tel Aviv. The meetings were usually on a statist level and open. If they were not fully covered by the Moroccan media, they certainly were by Israeli newspapers, television and other websites. But just recently, in fact this week as well, the Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar also made an official visit to Morocco to sign a memorandum of legal cooperation between the two countries. The Israeli ambassador in Rabat commented Sa'ar was invited by the Moroccan Minister of Justice Abellatif Wehbe.

The move towards Israeli-Moroccan normalization couldn't move fast enough or so it would appear. But such political trappings were underlined by trade in arms that soon became apparent. Israel has come to see the new relationships with the Arab countries in terms of security and big business. Since the signing of the accords, two years ago it sold $3.5 billion worth of military equipment to these Arab countries. Of that, $1.2 billion went directly to bolstering Moroccan defense capability, whether to fight the Polisario Front and/or to face possible recriminations from its neighbor Algeria.

Israeli sources suggest this is only the beginning of the road with military purchasing likely to double soon. This growing military relationship was underlined by the "Africa Lion" exercise held in late June under the command of the Moroccan Armed Forces and the US African Command (AFRICOM) and is seen as the largest military drill in Africa with thousands of troops.

This time around Israel had taken part in the exercise through sending military observers and what it is means is that from now on it will become privy to such exercises. After the exercise that included troops from Mali, Chad, UK, France, Netherlands and Brazil, Israeli army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi made an official visit to Morocco that was much talked about by the Israeli media and seen as yet another step to cement relations between the two countries.

This is a three-day visit where Kochavi met top Moroccan officials including Bourita and Defense Minister  Abdellatif Loudiyi and Inspector General of the Royal Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Belkhir El Farouk.

Opposition

Opposition to these meeting and the general relationship between Israel and Morocco has been muted although many inside the country don't like what is happening. Groups demonstrated outside the Moroccan Parliament during the Kochavi visit hoisting Palestinian banners and through Popular Action Group for Palestine but these protests according to the authorities tend to be small and for in between. And this is despite the fact that many called Kochavi as a war criminal in a manner that is heard loud and clear.

However, it appears the Moroccan government has made up its mind to initiate normalization from its widest doors while it continues to pay lip-service to the importance of the Palestinian issue and state despite the fact peace negotiations have long been dead and unlikely to be revived nor are they likely to be.

Another aspect is the fact that the Abraham accord countries started what is called the Negev Summit conference, a gathering of all the states that established new normalization deals with Israel, plus Egypt but not Jordan. It met last March and Israel and set to meet annually.

With these things going on – plus the  level of cooperation – it is difficult to see how the move on the Palestinian track can be made. But the Palestinian issue over the decades turned out to be waiting about waiting, so this is what will happen. Only this time normalization with Arab states may definitely relegate the Palestinians to the back mind of everyone's mind which is what Israel wants.


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