Despite rising public anger in Morocco over Israel’s war on Gaza, the normalisation deal between Morocco and Israel will likely hold, analysts have told Al Jazeera.
Since early October, Morocco’s streets have seen regular protests, with thousands turning out to protest against Israel’s continuing actions in Gaza. Among them are protesters who are unhappy with their government’s dealings with Israel. In the capital, Rabat, thousands have marched with Palestinian flags and placards calling for “Resistance till victory”, “Free Palestine”, and “Stop Moroccan government normalisation with Israel”.
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The assassination of Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri on January 2 seemed to inflame existing anger over Israel’s continued assault upon Gaza, which was reflected in the protests.
An unpopular accord
Despite rising demands for stronger action from Islamist and left-wing groups, the Moroccan government has continued to call for a ceasefire and reiterate its support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, with officials unwilling to comment on areas of foreign policy reserved for the king.
Morocco’s recognition of Israel came at the end of 2020 when it signed the Abraham Accords, a United States strategy from 2020 that saw the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Sudan normalise relations with Israel in return for various concessions.
What Morocco wanted was for the US to recognise its claim to the disputed territory of Western Sahara, and for Washington and Tel Aviv to increase trade and investment ties with the kingdom.
For Rabat, recognition of its claims to Western Sahara would give it the edge in its zero-sum rivalry with regional foe Algeria, which fiercely contests Morocco’s claim to the territory.
Nevertheless, public feeling towards Israel has rarely been warm in Morocco, as in many Arab states. In the lead-up to the normalisation, very few Moroccans supported the idea and the vast majority told researchers the Palestinian cause was for all Arabs, not just Palestinians.
More than three years later, as the death toll in Gaza rises and accounts of the war crimes Israel is accused of dominate public conversation, Rabat’s relations with Tel Aviv are under unprecedented strain.
Direct flights between Morocco and Israel, allowing for tourism and giving many of the country’s 2,500 or so Indigenous Jews direct links to family members, were cancelled by Royal Air Maroc on October 19.
Israel’s liaison office in Rabat was evacuated at about the same time while shops and restaurants catering to Israeli visitors in tourism hubs like Marrakesh have closed. The status of other projects, such as those on agriculture and desalination, is unknown.
“In terms of economic benefits, Israel has had a lot more success in its partnership with, say, the UAE than Morocco,” Ken Katzman of the Soufan Center said.
Stronger security ties
While commercial links may have been slow to take hold, ties have blossomed in security and defence.
A drone deal at the end of 2022 for the purchase of 150 Israeli drones – some of which were to be assembled in Morocco – tilted the balance of power in the Western Sahara further in Morocco’s favour. Moreover, an agreement last year for Israel to develop Moroccan surveillance satellites promises to make that advantage concrete.
Israel’s Pegasus spyware technology has also provided an advantage, with Amnesty International saying in 2022 that it was being used against Western Sahara activists. Much of the West’s attention in the Maghreb is now on Algeria and its generous gas reserves, since earlier supplies were disrupted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Morocco is likely to find itself needing the relationship with Tel Aviv more now.
“Military cooperation has become really crucial for Morocco,” Intissar Fakir, a senior analyst at the Middle East Institute told Al Jazeera.
“They’ve managed to sign a flurry of deals, not just for the supply of military technology, but for its manufacture,” she said. “One of the key takeaways is that the military advantage Morocco has been able to gain in the short time the deal has been in effect is substantial … [it] would be difficult for Morocco to walk away from this partnership with Israel.”
Nevertheless, despite overwhelming popular support for the king, the Moroccan people’s criticism of the relationship with Israel continues.
That Morocco has so far tried to ride out the waves of fury over the war is perhaps the clearest indicator yet that it intends to hold its course, Fakir said. Irrespective of the bloodshed, the war in Gaza may do little other than slow, rather than halt, Israel’s gradual normalisation with many other Arab states, Katzman added.
Relations with the UAE seem barely affected, while negotiations over establishing a similar relationship with Saudi Arabia, a longstanding goal of US and Israeli diplomats, have reportedly only slowed, rather than stopped, he said.
Whether anyone within the Trump administration ever conceived of the current levels of destruction being inflicted upon Gaza by Israel, and how that may affect perceptions of the US and its regional alliances will likely remain academic. For the signatories themselves, the ability to justify normalising with Israel lies not within their own capitals, but in Tel Aviv and how long it chooses to hold its present course.