Israel signs defence pact with Morocco

Israel signed a defence pact with Morocco on Wednesday, its latest public display of readiness to advance national security interests in tandem with Arab countries that have drawn closer to it amid shared concern over Iran and Islamist militancy.

A senior Israeli defense official said Jerusalem and Rabat will begin cooperating deeply on security issues, more freely sharing intelligence and holding joint exercises, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two countries on Wednesday.

The memorandum of understanding could herald intelligence cooperation, arms deals and joint military training, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said in Rabat.

His two-day visit came within weeks of an Israeli-hosted air force drill that was attended by an Emirati general, and naval maneuvers by Israel, UAE and Bahrain. The two Gulf states, along with Morocco and Sudan, forged relations with Israel last year.

After the signing ceremony with Abdellatif Loudiyi, Morocco’s defence administration minister, a senior Gantz aide said he saw a Moroccan market for Israeli counter-insurgency know-how.

“This is a deal that will enable us to help them with what they need from us, of course subject to our interests in the region,” the aide, Zohar Palti, told Israel’s Kan broadcaster.

“Morocco has for years been battling terror on several fronts, and is a country that is struggling against al Qaeda and global jihadi groups.”

Under the MOU signed on Wednesday, the two countries’ defense ministries and militaries can more easily speak with one another and share information, whereas in the past, such communication was only conducted through their respective intelligence services.

“It will allow the beginning of official security cooperation between the two [countries]. The agreement includes formalizing intelligence-sharing and will allow for ties between their defense industries, defense procurement and joint exercises,” the Defense Ministry said.

Though a number of weapons deals are expected to be signed as a result of the renewed ties and the MOU, a senior Israeli defense official said that arms sales will not form the basis of the relationship between Israel and Morocco.

Morocco had previously signed an memorandum on cyber cooperation and data security – the latter a possible preamble to purchases of high-end Israeli military technologies.

Israeli media have speculated about possible sales to Morocco of drones or missile defence systems.

The chief of Israel’s air force, Major-General Amikam Norkin, declined to discuss any such specific prospects at a conference on Tuesday, saying only that he favoured “airpower diplomacy” with Arab partners to help offset Iran’s clout.

“I think that this (Gantz visit to Rabat) is an opportunity,” Norkin said, recalling how, at this month’s Dubai Airshow, his Moroccan counterpart had come to introduce himself and “added a few sentences in Hebrew” when they conversed.

Jerusalem and Rabat resumed diplomatic relations last year as part of then-US president Donald Trump’s so-called Abraham Accords. As part of the agreement, Washington said it would recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, though the Biden administration has yet to do so.

Under the Abraham Accords, Israel also normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and, in principle, with Sudan, though that country’s turbulent political situation has made it difficult for the two to sign a formal agreement.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid travelled to Morocco in August for the first visit by Israel’s top diplomat to that country since 2003.

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