Rabat – Israel and Morocco signed a security agreement on Wednesday making it easier for Rabat to acquire high-tech exports from Israel’s defence industry, as the countries expand ties following their normalisation deal last year.
The memorandum of understanding signed in Rabat by visiting Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Morocco’s minister in charge of defence administration, Abdellatif Loudiyi, was “unprecedented” for the Jewish state, an Israeli official said.
Israel has several security accords with allied nations, but the Morocco deal marks the first-of-its-kind agreement with a majority Arab nation, the official said, asking not to be named.
Israel has full diplomatic relations with only four other Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.
The Morocco deal came as Gantz made the first visit by an Israeli defence minister to the North African kingdom.
Gantz said the deal “will enable Israeli exports here (to Morocco)”.
Israel’s defence ministry oversees all security exports, with the Jewish state offering state-of-art products ranging from attack drones to the Iron Dome missile defence system.
One Israeli product, the NSO’s Pegasus spyware, has already made its way to Morocco, according to Amnesty International and Paris-based organisation Forbidden Stories.
Rabat allegedly used it against French President Emmanuel Macron – a claim denied by Morocco which said it never bought the software and has filed lawsuits against French media and Amnesty.
An Israeli defence official stressed that “relations with Morocco were not based on arms sales” alone.
In Morocco, Israel was eyeing “long-term bonds that are a cornerstone of Israeli security”, the official said.
A Moroccan government statement said agreements had been signed in areas of defence and “cybersecurity”, and that both sides had “a common interest to consolidate relations.”
The statement also noted the importance to bilateral ties of Morocco’s Jewish community and the “Moroccan Jewish diaspora” living in Israel, which is home to some 700,000 Jews of Moroccan descent.
Gantz also met with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and senior army officer General Belkhir El Farouk on Wednesday.
He is scheduled to visit a synagogue early Thursday before returning to Israel.
Morocco and Israel previously set up low-level ties in 1993, but Rabat broke them off at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in 2000.
Rabat normalised ties with the Jewish state last December, shortly after similar announcements by the UAE and Bahrain. Sudan followed suit in January but has yet to build relations.
Those pacts brokered by former US president Donald Trump infuriated the Palestinians, who urged the Arab world to maintain its stand against recognising Israel until it agrees to a peace deal establishing a Palestinian state with its capital in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Police dispersed a group of around 50 pro-Palestinian protesters who tried to demonstrate near parliament in Rabat late Wednesday and who condemned the normalisation as “treason”.
Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, an Israeli expert on Morocco at Tel Aviv University, told AFP that Rabat had not abandoned the Palestinian issue but was “recalibrating” its position given the benefits of dealing with Israel, including its defence industry.
In return for normalising ties with Israel, the Trump administration recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
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