Israeli soldiers will for the first time take part in military exercises in Morocco when the biggest war games event in Africa kicks off Tuesday, the Israeli army said.
“This is the first time that the IDF is taking an active part in the ‘African Lion’ international exercise,” said a statement from the Israeli army late Monday.
“A delegation of 12 soldiers and commanders from the Golani Reconnaissance Battalion” — an elite infantry unit — has been sent to participate alongside some 8,000 soldiers from 18 countries, including Tunisia, with which Israel has no formal ties.
The event ‘African Lion 2023‘ — now in its 19th edition — is organized by Morocco and the United States.
“During the next two weeks, the soldiers will focus on training in various combat challenges that combine urban warfare and underground warfare, in which they will conclude in a common exercise for all participating armies,” read the Israeli statement.
Israel participated in the event last year, however only as international military observers, without soldiers taking part on the ground.
According to the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces (FAR), the war games include exercises in operational planning and fighting weapons of mass destruction, tactical land, sea, air, and special forces training, as well as airborne operations.
AL23 provides an opportunity to conduct realistic, dynamic and collaborative readiness training in an austere environment that intersects multiple geographic and functional combatant commands including U.S. Africa Command, U.S. European Command, and U.S. Central Command; as well as strategic maritime choke points and global shipping lanes.
This year’s exercise features multiple combined arms live fire exercises; a maritime exercise; an air exercise with U.S. C-130J Super Hercules, KC-135 Stratotanker, F-16 Fighting Falcons and bomber aircraft; a joint forcible entry with paratroopers into a field training exercise; two chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear response exercises; and three humanitarian civic assistance program events.
Israeli troops are only participating in the drill in Morocco, though parts of the exercise are also held in Ghana, Senegal, and Tunisia, which does not have any diplomatic ties with Israel.
Israel and Morocco established low-level diplomatic relations during the 1990s, following Israel’s interim peace accords with the Palestinians, but those ties were suspended after the outbreak in the year 2000 of the Second Intifada.
A breakthrough took place 20 years later when the Trump administration agreed to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region in exchange for Rabat agreeing to normalize relations with Israel. Morocco was the third country to join what was dubbed as the Abraham Accords, following the leads of the UAE and Bahrain.
Morocco and Israel have been working to boost cooperation in the military, security, trade, and tourism fields since they normalized ties in December 2020. In fact, two years ago, Israel signed a defence pact with Morocco as part of a 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.
Since then, Israeli media have speculated about possible sales to Morocco of drones or missile defence systems. At the time, reports suggested that Morocco was in talks with Israel to acquire the Delilah cruise missile to equip it’s existing fleet of F-5 fighters. Additionally, the Kingdom announced striking a deal with an Israeli company IAI on collaboration in the aeronautic sector.
Subsequently, Morrocan personnel participated in an international military conference in Israel, highlighting the solid relationship with Israel. Since normalized relations with Israel, the north African country has acquired defence hardware from Israel worth several tens of millions of dollars, says an end-of-the-year report by IAI. Morocco will now receive Barak MX air defence systems in a deal worth over $500 million from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).