Morocco has become the fourth Arab nation to normalise relations with the state of Israel. Previously clandestine, Morocco’s cooperation with the Israeli government stretches back decades. The US, for its part, has officially recognised Morocco’s annexation of the fledging nation of Western Sahara. Lame duck US President Donald Trump overturned years of official US neutrality by taking this step.
Let’s untangle the many threads of this issue. Israel has cultivated extensive military, intelligence-sharing and economic ties with the Moroccan kingdom since the 1960s. This latest normalisation only formalises an existing secretive relationship. Pursuing ties with African and Muslim-majority nations located outside the direct Middle East is part of Tel Aviv’s periphery strategy – outflanking its immediate hostile Arab neighbours by building links with periphery nations. Morocco is considered part of the peripheral zone.
Interestingly, in the 1960s, then King of Morocco Hassan II, allowed the emigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel, thus boosting the number of settlers to counter the demographic problems of colonising occupied Palestinian land. Israeli leaders have always encouraged Jewish populations in the Muslim-majority nations to emigrate. Today, one million Israelis are either Moroccan Jews, or descendants of the original migrants from Morocco.
Ronen Bergman, writing in the NY Times, states that:
The king permitted mass emigration of Jews and allowed Mossad to establish a station in Morocco. Israel provided weapons and trained Moroccans in using them; it supplied surveillance technology and helped organize the Moroccan intelligence service; and the two shared information gathered by their spies — the start of decades of such cooperation.
Morocco acquired Israeli weapons, its intelligence service was trained by and coordinated with Mossad, and opponents of the Moroccan royal family were tracked using Israeli-made surveillance technology. Mehdi Ben Barka, a left wing nationalist opponent of the Moroccan regime, was kidnapped and murdered by Moroccan intelligence agents with the cooperation of the Mossad.
It was the intelligence sharing by Moroccan authorities with Israel about the military capabilities and numbers of Arab armed forces that gave Tel Aviv a decisive edge in launching the 1967 war. Knowledge of the troop movements, logistics and military technology of the Arab nations was provided to Israel by, among others, the Moroccan regime.
The quid pro quo for Morocco’s formal recognition of Israel consists of a scandalous ‘bribe’ – official US recognition of Morocco’s occupation and annexation of the Sahrawi republic, otherwise known as Western Sahara. Overturning decades of US foreign policy and in violation of international law, Trump’s recognition of the Moroccan occupation inflamed a long-simmering conflict.
Western Sahara, formerly a Spanish colony, was forcibly occupied by Moroccan troops in 1975. Listed by the United Nations as a non-self-governing territory, the people of Western Sahara – the Sahrawi – rose up in rebellion in the 1970s. Launching an armed insurgency, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is the internationally recognised authority in the country. The conflict continued for decades, until the signing of a ceasefire in 1991.
The insurgency simmered after 1991, and Morocco continued to control most of Western Sahara. The political authority of the Sahrawi people, the separatist Polisario movement, continues to fight for the independence of Western Sahara. Its representatives are deployed overseas to promote the cause of Sahrawi national self-determination.
Trump’s decision to officially recognise Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, accompanied by his usual narcissistic Twitter-bragging, has ensured that this conflict will continue for decades to come. The US has formally taken the side of Morocco. Kamal Fadel, the Polisario representative in Australia, reacted to this news by stating that only the Sahrawi people can determine the future of their nation.
Sahrawis and Palestinians, along with pro-independence activists, have condemned the cementing of ties between Morocco and Israel. The hashtag ‘Moroccans Against Normalisation’ has taken off, uniting online outrage against this latest deal. Hanan Ashrawi, longtime Palestinian legislator and activist, branded the Morocco-Israel normalisation as sinister and ugly.
Alex MacDonald, writing in Middle East Eye magazine, states that Palestinian and Sahrawi activists will seize this opportunity to renew solidarity between the two struggles for self-determination. The Palestinians and Sahrawis find themselves victims of post-colonial intrigues and backroom manoeuvring between imperialist powers.
These kinds of deals are arrived at by sacrificing the legitimate demands of the Palestinians – and Sahrawis – for an independent state. Nazha el-Khalidi, a Sahrawi human rights activist, denounced the Morocco-Israel agreement, and stated that the resolve of the Sahrawis and Palestinians remains undiminished.