Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday signed a defense cooperation agreement with Morocco during the first public visit by an Israeli defense minister to the country.
why it matters: Israel and Morocco have had secret defence, security and intelligence ties for decades, but after establishing diplomatic relations, the countries are making it wider and more public.
- A senior Israeli official told me that the Moroccans wanted to give Gantz’s visit a very high public profile to send a signal to both the US and Algeria.
- The Biden administration has so far indicated it has no intention of withdrawing a dramatic move made by former President Donald Trump to secure an Israel-Moroccan normalization deal: recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara.
- But tensions are rising over that issue between Morocco and Algeria, which supports the Polisario Front which is fighting for an independent Western Sahara.
state of play: Relations between North African rivals have gone from bad to worse since Algeria cut diplomatic ties With Morocco last August over Rabat’s alleged “hostile action”.
- In early November, Algeria blamed Morocco for an airstrike on a truck convoy that traveled from Mauritania to Algeria through an area of Western Sahara controlled by Polisario rebels. Three Algerians were killed.
Running news: Gantz landed in Morocco on Tuesday night. Besides signing a defense deal with his counterpart Abdeltif Loudii, he visited a paratrooper unit and met senior Moroccan defense and intelligence officials, including the military chief.
- Gantz also met with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, who arrived in Morocco on Wednesday after a visit to Washington in which he met Foreign Minister Tony Blinken.
- State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken and Bourita expressed strong support for the new UN envoy for Western Sahara and that Blinken considered Morocco’s autonomy plan for the region “serious, credible and realistic”.
What are they saying: While the Moroccans wanted to send signals to the US and Algeria, “our message in this visit is to strengthen the Abrahamic Agreement and build a unified front in the region against Iran,” the senior Israeli official said.
what to watch: The new defense cooperation agreement is expected to increase arms sales from Israel to Morocco. Israeli officials say they will focus primarily on defensive systems.