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Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits Morocco amid tense regional context

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz flies Tuesday evening November 23 for Morocco, a first visit aimed at strengthening security cooperation between the two countries, a year after the normalization of their relationship, and in full tension between Algiers and Rabat on Western Sahara.

Since the resumption last year, diplomatic relations between the two countries, a security adviser and the head of Israeli diplomacy have visited Morocco for talks, but this is the first time that an Israeli minister of Defense is leading an official visit to the kingdom.

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Mr. Gantz, who flies Tuesday evening from Tel Aviv and will leave Morocco on Thursday, must sign an agreement on the spot that aims to « To establish the cornerstone of future security relations between Israel and Morocco », a source familiar with the visit told AFP. “Until now, there was some cooperation, but here we are really going to formalize it. It is a public declaration of our partnership ”, added this manager.

Strengthen the « hard power » of the kingdom

The two countries had established diplomatic relations in the early 1990s, before Morocco ended it at the start of the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising of the early 2000s.

Israel and Morocco reestablished relations in December 2020 as part of the « Abrahamic Accords, » a process of normalizing relations between the Jewish state and Arab countries supported by the Trump administration. Washington then recognized the sovereignty of Morocco over Western Sahara, a territory disputed with the Saharawi separatists of the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria.

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But Mr. Gantz’s visit comes at a time when Algiers broke off, in August, its relations with Rabat due to« Hostile actions » kingdom and that the Polisario Front decided on Friday to« Intensify » its armed struggle against Morocco in Western Sahara. His visit is an opportunity for the Cherifian kingdom to « Strengthen its » hard power « in a tense regional context » between Algeria and Morocco, writes the Moroccan weekly As is.

For Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, specialist in Israeli-Moroccan relations at Tel Aviv University, the first visit of an Israeli defense minister to Morocco, in full tension between the two heavyweights of the Maghreb, does not seem to hold. pure coincidence. « It is possible that in a context of Algeria-Morocco tension, Moroccans wish to show the world, their own population, their Algerian rivals and the West that they are deepening their relations with Israel, with all that this implies. « , he emphasizes.

Armed drones and spyware

The Israeli company Ratio Petroleum had recently announced a partnership with Rabat for the exploration of hydrocarbons off Dakhla, in Western Sahara. And the Jewish state is also one of the world’s leading exporters of armed drones and security software like NSO’s Pegasus. However, sales of armed drones and certain advanced technologies, such as spyware, must be approved by the Ministry of Defense, headed by Mr. Gantz.

According to information published this summer by a media consortium, a mobile number of French President Emmanuel Macron was on the list of those targeted by a Moroccan state security service, accused of having used Pegasus. In the wake of this affair, Mr. Gantz had met his French counterpart in Paris to assure him that Israel was taking these allegations to the  » serious « . For its part, Morocco categorically denies having purchased this software and announced that it had filed complaints for « Defamation » against the media.

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Asked by AFP, a spokeswoman for Mr. Gantz did not say whether the issue of NSO or the sale of military technology would be discussed during this visit. According to various NGOs, Pegasus was also found this fall in the cellphones of Palestinian activists, whose cause continues to mobilize part of Moroccan civil society, hostile to normalization with Israel.

For Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Morocco has not abandoned the Palestinian cause « But has many other interests, many other benefits to be derived from recalibration » of his relationships. « Most of the countries in the region no longer want to be hostage to this cause, they want to prioritize their own interests and Israel has a lot to offer them », he said.

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