By Lisa Vies
While the news media from coast to coast has been trumpeting a “historic breakthrough” between Israel and Morocco with credit to the Trump administration, ties between the two countries have been close for decades, with cooperation on intelligence and military matters that even included the assassination of an opposition leader.
According to a recent report in The New York Times, Morocco has obtained advanced military weapons and intelligence-gathering gear and instructions for their use from their Israeli allies over at least six decades. In exchange, Morocco purportedly helped Israel win the 1967 Six Day War, and reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, to help the Israeli secret service (Mossad) kill Osama bin Laden before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The collaboration, explains Ronen Bergman, investigative reporter for Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest circulation daily, is called a “periphery strategy.” It helped Israel build covert ties to Arab regimes where common interests — and enemies — could be found.
With the rise to power in 1961 of King Hassan II, frosty relations between the two states would soon improve. Hassan reversed a policy of barring Jews from migrating to Israel. In exchange, Israeli agents informed Hassan of a plot by a leftist opposition leader, Mahdi Ben Barka, to overthrow the king. The body of Ben Barka, believed murdered by Mossad in France, was never found.
In 1965, Hassan II allowed the Mossad to bug the meeting and private rooms of visiting Arab leaders, resulting in Jerusalem receiving crucial information that allegedly helped them deflect an attack by three Arab armies two years later and defeat them in just six days.
Over the years, Israel and Morocco remained closely allied but King Mohammed VI was not satisfied with the unresolved matter of Western Sahara – a desert region under Spanish colonial rule from 1884 until 1975. He was determined to take the territory despite global opposition to the move and in November 2020 he launched a military incursion into the UN-controlled buffer zone between the two sides. War threatened but so far has not happened.
Now, despite a UN resolution recognizing the right of Western Sahara’s people to “self-determination and independence” and which “deeply deplores” Moroccan occupation, the U.S. has recognized Western Sahara as Moroccan territory in exchange for the Arab nation’s “recognition” of Israel – another controversial feather in the cap for the outgoing president.
But Judd Devermont, Africa director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, disputed the so-called breakthrough, announced by President Donald Trump. “The U.S. is trampling over African equities for a short-term win for its Israel policy,” he said, and the decision “will pose an immediate problem for many African countries.”