The Win-Win Infuriating Iran
Morocco recently established full diplomatic relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords, an effort by the United States to forge normalization agreements between Israel and Arab states to build a united front against Iran. The agreement is a win-win for both Israel and Morocco.
The new relationship includes economic and technological cooperation, direct air flights, and an exchange of diplomatic missions. The agreement’s impact, however, will be felt far beyond these two countries.
As part of the deal, the United States agreed to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a mineral-rich desert region where a five-decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a secessionist movement that seeks to establish an independent state for the Saharawi people.
The United States previously supported a 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario that called for a referendum to resolve the dispute. After recent border clashes between Polisario supporters and Moroccan troops, however, the Polisario exited that deal and returned to armed struggle.
The Morocco-Israel deal has infuriated Iran, which, alongside the Palestinians, has the most to lose from Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Morocco has long accused Iran of supporting the Polisario in an effort to destabilize the Moroccan monarchy. In May 2018, Morocco severed diplomatic ties with Iran after the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah met secretly with the Polisario at the Iranian embassy in Algeria.
Iran has now stepped up its incitement campaign against Morocco, encouraging Moroccans to revolt against Moroccan King Mohammed VI for “betraying” the Palestinian cause. Palestinians claim the Abraham Accords have set back the cause of peace by abandoning the longstanding demand that Israel give up land for a Palestinian state before it can receive recognition. In fact, the accords refute that position.
Hamas, the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, denounced the Morocco-Israel agreement. Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second largest Iran-backed terrorist group in the Gaza Strip, called on Moroccans to revolt against their leaders: “We are fully confident that the Moroccan people strongly reject normalization with the Zionist occupation, and the land of the Kingdom of Morocco will not be a hotbed for the Zionists, as the Moroccan people and their political forces will reject normalization and confront it. The Arab regimes and their leaders who are rushing toward the Zionist entity will be cursed.”
Iran and its Islamist proxies have condemned Morocco’s deal with Israel as a “betrayal of Islam.” Observers say Iran may be laying the groundwork for Islamist terror attacks against Morocco. “Now that Morocco has decided to make peace with Israel, ISIS and other terrorist groups are likely to increase their plans to thwart the agreement by launching terror attacks in the country,” Middle East analyst Khaled Abu Toameh noted. “In the eyes of the Islamists, a ‘betrayal of Islam’ is seen as apostasy, a crime and sin punishable by execution. The message Iran and its allies are sending to the terrorists: You have a green light to launch terror attacks against the leaders of Morocco because, by making peace with Israel, they have also renounced their religion, Islam, and become infidels.”
Former Moroccan cabinet minister Nabil Benabdallah said the new agreement with Israel simply formalizes an existing historical relationship. “The open agreements with Israel are ultimately only the affirmation of an existing reality. Hundreds of thousands of Moroccan Jews living in Israel will thus be able to travel to their country of origin, Morocco. They will now do it directly, instead of doing it indirectly as has been the case for decades. This is also the case for cooperation between the security services, because everyone knows that in the context of the fight against terrorism on an international scale, this has been done for a long time.”