Defense Minister Benny Gantz headed to Morocco on Tuesday for a visit that will “formalize” cooperation between the two countries, at a time when Rabat is embroiled in a confrontation over Western Sahara.
The two-day trip comes less than a year after Morocco normalized ties with Israel in a deal brokered by the administration of former US President Donald Trump.
In return, Washington recognized the sovereignty of the North African kingdom over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
The trip is aimed at “laying the groundwork for all future security cooperation between Israel and Morocco,” a source familiar with the visit told AFP.
“So far there has been some level of cooperation, this really formalizes it,” the source said.
Morocco controls most of Western Sahara and considers the former Spanish colony as its sovereign territory.
Tensions have erupted between Morocco and Algeria, which backs the independence movement of the Polisario Front of Western Sahara.
Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco in August citing “hostile actions,” an accusation denied by Rabat.
Earlier this month, Algiers accused Morocco of killing three Algerian civilians on a desert road, raising fears of an escalation.
And the head of the Polisario, Brahim Ghali, said last week that the movement has decided to intensify military operations.
Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, an Israeli expert on Morocco, said the timing of Gantz’s visit and signing of a memorandum of understanding was no coincidence.
“It is possible that in the context of the Moroccan-Algerian tensions, the Moroccans were the ones who were interested in this,” he said.
“It seems to me that Moroccans are the ones who are interested in showing everyone, their own public, their Algerian rivals, the West, that they are deepening their relationship with Israel,” said the Tel Aviv University professor.
Morocco and Israel previously established ties in 1993, but Rabat broke them at the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) in 2000.
Rabat normalized ties with the Jewish state last December, shortly after similar announcements from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The agreements negotiated by the United States facilitated agreements for political, cultural and economic cooperation.
Last month Israel’s Ratio Petroleum announced an agreement with Rabat on “exploration operations” off Dakhla in Western Sahara.
Israel’s Defense Ministry oversees all security exports, and the Jewish state offers cutting-edge products ranging from attack drones to the acclaimed Iron Dome missile defense system.
Rabat allegedly used it against French President Emmanuel Macron, a claim denied by Morocco, which said it never bought the software and has filed lawsuits against French media and Amnesty International.
A Gantz spokeswoman declined to comment on NSO or other possible defense technologies that will be discussed during the visit.
Pegasus software has also reportedly been discovered on the phones of Palestinian officials.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to mobilize civil society, Islamists and the extreme left in Morocco, with a call for a November 29 demonstration against “progressive normalization with Israel” and in support of the Palestinians.
According to Maddy-Weitzman, although Rabat has not abandoned the Palestinian cause, “there are too many other interests at stake, too many other benefits to be gained from recalibration.”
“Most of the countries in the region simply do not want to remain hostage on the issue, they want to pursue their interests as they are defined, and at this moment, obviously, Israel has a lot to offer,” he said. .