Israeli Defense Minister flies to Morocco to strengthen security relations

The Israeli Defense Minister will go to Morocco for an official visit to consolidate the security relationship between the two countries before the first anniversary of the establishment of official relations between the two countries.

JERUSALEM-The Israeli Defense Minister traveled to Morocco on Tuesday for an official visit to consolidate security relations, just before the first anniversary of their agreement on the establishment of comprehensive diplomatic relations.

Benny Gantz will make the first official visit of the Israeli defense minister to one of the four Arab countries that agreed to normalize relations with Israel last year. Earlier this year, the Israeli Foreign Minister opened the Israeli Foreign Office in Rabat.

Gantz told reporters before the flight that he would set off for a “historic meeting.”

“We will sign a cooperation agreement. We will continue to strengthen contacts. This is a successful trip very important,” he said.

An Israeli official said that during the visit, Gantz will meet with his Moroccan counterparts and sign an agreement to lay the foundation for the “formalization of the defense relationship between the two countries.” The official was not authorized to talk to the media before the visit and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan signed an agreement to normalize relations with Israel in 2020, which is part of the diplomatic agreement facilitated by the Trump administration, the Abraham Agreement.

The UAE and Bahrain have long maintained secret security cooperation with Israel because they are hostile to regional rival Iran.

These countries will pay close attention to the resumption of negotiations between Iran and the world’s major powers on the renewal of the international nuclear agreement next week.

Three years ago, after the Trump administration withdrew from the agreement, the previous agreement lifted the painful economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on the country’s nuclear program.

Since then, Iran has accelerated uranium enrichment-a crucial step towards the production of nuclear bombs. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, while Israel said it will take any measures it deems necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring the ability to make bombs.

Earlier on Tuesday, Gantz stated at a security conference that world powers “must include’Plan B’in their diplomatic options regarding Iran’s nuclear program”.

“There is no doubt that a diplomatic solution is preferable, but at the same time, the use of force should also be on the table-because this is to continue diplomacy through other means,” the defense secretary said.

Israel and Morocco enjoyed low-level diplomatic relations in the 1990s, but after the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, Morocco severed relations between the two countries. Despite this, the two countries still maintain informal relations. Nearly half a million Israelis claim to have Moroccan heritage — more than 200,000 people immigrated to Israel after the nation was founded in 1948 — thousands of people visit the country every year.

Morocco is still home to a small Jewish community, and there is one synagogue left in Rabat.

In exchange for the normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel, the Trump administration pledged in December 2020 to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed North African territory of Western Sahara. This statement broke the decades-old U.S. policy and international consensus that the status of Western Sahara should be resolved through a UN referendum.

Since then, the Biden administration has carefully withdrawn this recognition. This week, after Secretary of State Anthony Brinken and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Britta met in Washington, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that Brinken believed that Morocco’s autonomy plan for the region was “serious, credible and realistic. A potential to satisfy the wishes of the people of Western Sahara.”

Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975, a former Spanish colony believed to have large offshore oil reserves and mineral resources, which triggered a conflict with the POLISARIO Front. The United Nations facilitated the ceasefire in 1991 and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor the ceasefire and help prepare a referendum on the future of the territory. Disagreements about who is eligible to vote prevented the vote from proceeding.

The Polisario Front ended a 29-year ceasefire in November 2020 and restarted its armed conflict with Morocco.

The Abraham Agreement broke the long-standing consensus of Arab countries that normalization with Israel is only part of the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Because of this, the Palestinians see these agreements as betrayals, weakening their influence on Israel.

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