A new welcome support for Rabat, in its fight for the recognition of its – disputed – sovereignty over Western Sahara came on July 17, 2023 from Israel. (1) Indeed, after the United States and several European countries, Israel announced its support for Morocco’s position in the conflict that has pitted it for almost fifty years against the separatists of the Polisario Front, supported by Algiers. (2)
An all-out rapprochement between Morocco and Israel
In a letter addressed to the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu indicated that he “recognizes the sovereignty of Morocco over the territory of Western Sahara.” (3) This position, says the Prime Minister of Israel will be “reflected in all the relevant acts and documents of the Israeli government” and “transmitted to the United Nations, regional and international organizations including Israel as member, as well as all countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations”. (4) In response, Morocco announced that it would elevate its Tel Aviv mission to an embassy and invited the Israeli PM for an official visit.
Israel’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty comes almost three years after the two countries partially re-established diplomatic relations under the Abraham Accords negotiated by the United States. Rabat agreed to join the normalization pact in exchange for the Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan rule over the territory. (5)
Binyamin Netanyahu informed the Moroccan sovereign that Israel was examining positively “the opening of a consulate in the city of Dakhla”, located in the part of Western Sahara controlled by the kingdom. A recurring request from the kingdom, which wants its allies to open diplomatic representations in Western Sahara in recognition of the “Moroccanness” of this vast territory.
Peter Pham, a high-profile member of the prestigious US American think tank The Atlantic Council said that the decision of the State of Israel to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over its Sahara is the result of “the forward-looking leadership” of King Mohammed VI, backed by “an insightful vision forged in patience and historical legitimacy.” (6)
King Mohammed VI of Morocco has invited Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to visit the North African country, the Prime Minister’s Office announced following the official recognition of the Moroccanness of the Sahara by the Israeli government. “The invitation was issued in a warm personal letter in which the king thanked the State of Israel for its willingness to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty in Western Sahara,” the Prime Minister stated. A visit by Netanyahu would “open up new possibilities for strengthening relations between our countries,” wrote the Moroccan king.
Since their diplomatic normalization, Morocco and Israel have been busy accelerating their cooperation, mainly military, security, trade and tourism. Thus, on Monday July 17, 2023, the Israeli Chief of Staff announced the appointment of a military attaché for the first time in Morocco, Colonel Sharon Itah. Since the end of May 2023, three Israeli ministers as well as the speaker of parliament, the national security adviser and soldiers from an elite infantry unit have visited Morocco.
Ties between Morocco and Israel — including, quietly, military — go back decades. The two countries had established diplomatic relations in the early 1990s, before Morocco ended them at the start of the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising of the early 2000s.
During the first defense cooperation monitoring committee between the two countries, Rabat and Tel Aviv agreed to strengthen their collaboration in several military areas. (7)
The announcement was made by a statement from the staff of the Royal Armed Forces (FAR), released on Tuesday January 17, 2023. Morocco and Israel, which have come closer since the diplomatic normalization carried out in December 2020 within the framework of the Abraham Accords, “agreed to further strengthen this cooperation and expand it to other areas, including intelligence, air defense and electronic warfare,” the document says. (8)
This development follows the first meeting of the monitoring committee for Moroccan-Israeli defense cooperation, which took place Monday January 16 and Tuesday January 17, 2023 in Rabat, as part of the military rapprochement between the two countries. The meeting was co-chaired by FAR Inspector General Belkhir El Farouk and Director of the Politico-Military Affairs Office of the Israeli Defense Ministry Dror Shalom.
The two parties also examined various aspects of their cooperation, including “logistics, and training as well as the acquisition and modernization of equipment“, details the press release. A cooperation “carrying mutual interests and based on mutual trust and support“, welcomed Belkhir El Farouk, number two of the Moroccan army.
In November 2021, former Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed a memorandum of understanding in Rabat governing security relations with Morocco. His historic visit was followed in July 2022 by that of former army boss Aviv Kochavi, the first by an Israeli chief of staff to the Sherifian kingdom. (9)
Netanyahu’s Morocco visit
Binyamin Netanyahu, will make at least five trips abroad from the beginning of September to the end of December 2023, including one to Morocco in response to the invitation of King Mohammed VI, reveals the Israeli daily Israel Hayom. (10)
The Jewish state’s Prime Minister is due to travel first to Cyprus on September 3-4, 2023 – after his trip was postponed when he fell ill and underwent cardiac stimulation surgery – and then to Turkey, writes the first among Israeli newspapers in terms of circulation.
After participating in the annual general debate of the United Nations Assembly in New York, from September 18 to 23, 2023 and a meeting with the American president, Joe Biden – which should take place between September and October –, Netanyahu is expected to visit Morocco.
In mid-July 2023, Netanyahu received an official invitation from King Mohammed VI following Israel’s recognition of the Moroccanness of the Sahara. Since then, Netanyahu’s office has said that efforts are being made to find a suitable date for both parties and estimates suggest that the trip to Morocco should be included in the prime minister’s busy schedule over the fall months. and winter.
Since the signing of the tripartite agreement between Morocco, the United States and Israel, ministers of the Netanyahu government have made several visits to Morocco.
The Minister of Industry and Trade, Mr. Ryad Mezzour, and the Israeli Minister of Economy and Industry, Mrs. Orna Barbivai, held a meeting on Monday, February 21, 2022 at the ministry’s headquarters in Rabat, which is part of the implementation of the Joint Declaration signed on December 22, 2020 in Rabat, (11) in which the two countries expressed their desire to promote dynamic and innovative bilateral economic cooperation in the fields of trade, finance and investment, as well as innovation and technology.
“It was a founding meeting that gave us the opportunity to identify areas and avenues for collaboration and bilateral industrial and commercial partnership. After more than a year of the resumption of diplomatic relations, Morocco and Israel have laid the groundwork for an innovative multidimensional partnership. Today, we are entering a new stage on the path of our partnership, which we want to be intense, fruitful and mutually beneficial,” said Mr. Mezzour. (12)
This meeting was marked by the signing of an Economic Cooperation Agreement aimed, among other things, at creating Qualified Industrial Zones in Morocco which will make it possible to concretize the tripartite cooperation Morocco-Israel-United States in the field of trade and development. investment and to facilitate the direct access of goods produced in these Zones to the American market.
This agreement also provides for participation in trade fairs and economic conventions to be held in both countries, the exchange of expertise and the organization of promotional events and business visits. It also aims to establish bilateral cooperation on standardization and regulatory issues, between private sector entities of the two countries (employer organizations, Chambers of Commerce, etc.) and in the fields of research and development (R&D), innovation and small and medium-sized enterprises.
During this meeting, the two parties identified sectors with high investment potential, in line with those selected by the respective business communities, namely: Industry 4.0, agri-food, automotive, aeronautics, textiles, water technologies, renewable energies, outsourcing of services, medical devices and the pharmaceutical industry.
To put in place the mechanisms promoting the development of this bilateral partnership meeting the needs and expectations of the two countries, it was agreed, at the end of this meeting, to hold the 1st session of the Joint Committee provided for by the Cooperation Agreement. Economic and Commercial and to organize a Forum of businessmen from the two countries.
Economic interdependence between Morocco and Israel goes far beyond trade balance figures, according to Einat Levi, a specialist in Israeli-Moroccan relations, who spoke on the “Maghreb” program broadcast on I24NEWS. (13) This relationship is part of a broader perspective of complementarity and strategic alignment between the two nations, which benefit from a unique exchange dynamic. “Morocco, with its growing export capacity, complements itself perfectly with Israel and its advanced technological reservoir,” she said.
According to Einat Levi, recent years have seen a significant increase in trade between Israel and Morocco. In 2022, trade between the two countries reached $180 million. But this relationship remains asymmetrical, because Morocco exports more than Israel.
The consultant explains this by the lack of solid structures governing trade between the two countries. The absence of customs agreements, tax treaties and investment protection constitute an obstacle to be overcome in order to “make this commercial network attractive and beneficial for both parties”.
In detail, it should be recalled that cooperation has begun in earnest around issues such as water management and renewable energy, as Israeli private companies seek new investment opportunities in Morocco, reads a report of the Middle East Institute –MEI- entitled “Morocco and Israel: Economic Opportunities, Military Incentives, and Moral Hazards”. (14) This cooperation deepened in 2021 with a proliferation of agreements, with the aim of increasing trade from $131 million in 2021 to $500 million in five years.
The recognition of the Moroccanness of the Sahara by Israel is, undoubtedly, an important milestone in the Abraham Accords. It will not only further the promising Moroccan -Israeli relations and encourage other nations of the Muslim world to normalize relations with the Jewish state but also allow the holding of the Negev summit in Morocco on September 2023 with the hope that both Jordan and the Palestinian authority may, hopefully, join, ultimately, the meeting and make it a success story.
The bold Israeli political initiative of the recognition of the Moroccanness of the Sahara is a win-win undertaking. It allows Morocco to strengthen its international legitimacy in the Sahara and Israel to have access to African markets through Morocco and ultimately to African political recognition.
Today, Morocco and Israel can go on with their millennial relationship in friendship, respect and responsibility with the hope that this happy development will bring peace to both Palestinians and Israelis and wellbeing to the nations of the MENA region.
Moroccan Jews, who have been present in the country for 2500 years, have maintained close ties with its leadership even during periods when there were no relations with Israel. (15) The country’s Jewish community, once estimated at 300 000 of thousands in the 1950s, numbers just 3000 today but is very influential in politics and business and is much-esteemed by the Muslim population. Needless to say, however, that one of the most influential advisors of King Mohammed VI is André Azoulay, a Moroccan charismatic Jew.
- Lucent, Adam. ‘’Israel recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara’’, Al-Monitor, July 17, 2023. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2023/07/israel-recognizes-moroccos-sovereignty-over-western-sahara
- Chograni, Houda. ‘’The Polisario Front, Morocco, and the Western Sahara Conflict’’, Arab Center Washington DC, June 22, 2021. https://arabcenterdc.org/resource/the-polisario-front-morocco-and-the-western-sahara-conflict/
- Berman, Lazar. ‘’Israel tells Morocco it recognizes its sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara”, The Times of Israel, July 17, 2023. https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-tells-morocco-it-recognizes-its-sovereignty-over-disputed-western-sahara/
- MAP. ‘’ Israel’s Recognition of Morocco’s Sovereignty over its Sahara, the Result of HM the King’s ‘Forward-looking Leadership’ (Peter Pham)”, July 17, 2023. https://www.mapnews.ma/en/actualites/politics/israels-recognition-moroccos-sovereignty-over-its-sahara-result-hm-kings-forward
- Chtatou, Mohamed. ‘’Understanding Moroccan “Normalization” with Israel”, The Washington Institute, January 5, 2021. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/understanding-moroccan-normalization-israel
- MAP. ‘’ Israel’s Recognition of Morocco’s Sovereignty over its Sahara, the Result of HM the King’s ‘Forward-looking Leadership’ (Peter Pham)”, op. cit.
- Le Matin. ‘’Maroc-Israël : Réunion du Comité de suivi de la coopération de défense’’, January 17, 2023. https://lematin.ma/express/2023/maroc-israel-reunion-comite-suivi-cooperation-defense/385636.html
- Kasraoui, Safa. ‘’Morocco, Israel To Boost Military Cooperation, Training”, Morocco World News, January 17, 2023. https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2023/01/353573/morocco-israel-to-boost-military-cooperation-training
- Haaretz. ‘’ ‘A Historic Shift in the Region’: Israeli Army Chief Returns From Morocco’’, July 21, 2022. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2022-07-21/ty-article/.premium/a-historic-shift-in-the-region-idf-chief-returns-from-morocco/00000182-213b-d76f-a9ae-27bffbfe0001
- Cohen, Shirit Avitan.’’Get ready for Netanyahu’s whirlwind tour: 5 trips in 3 months”, Israel Hayom, July 8, 2023. https://www.israelhayom.com/2023/08/07/get-read-for-netanyahus-whirlwind-tour-7-trips-in-3-months/
- USA. Agreement Between the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, MOROCCO and ISRAEL, Rabat December 22, 2020. TREATIES AND OTHER INTERNATIONAL ACTS SERIES 20-1222. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/20-1222-Morocco-Israel-Joint-Declaration.pdf
- Ministère de l’Industrie et du Commerce. ‘’LE MAROC ET ISRAËL TRACENT LES LIGNES FONDATRICES DE LEUR COOPÉRATION INDUSTRIELLE ET COMMERCIALE’’. https://www.mcinet.gov.ma/fr/actualites/le-maroc-et-israel-tracent-les-lignes-fondatrices-de-leur-cooperation-industrielle-et
- Levi, Einat. “Morocco-Israel: the issues and challenges of economic cooperation deciphered”, Maghreb/I24. https://www.linkedin.com/in/einatlevi?trk=public_post_embed_feed-actor-image
- Fakir, Intissar. ‘’Morocco and Israel: Economic Opportunities, Military Incentives, and Moral Hazards’’, Middle East Institute, December 1, 2022. https://www.mei.edu/publications/morocco-and-israel-economic-opportunities-military-incentives-and-moral-hazards
- Chtatou, Mohamed. ‘’The Moroccan-Israeli Geostrategic Relationship: From a Harmonious Past to a Promising Future’’, Orbis, Volume 67, Issue 2, 2023, pp. 228-246. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0030438723000066