The Kingdom of Morocco signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Israel to establish an open defence agreement on November 24, 2021, making it the only country in the Arab world to sign a formal defence deal with Israel. Morocco’s relationship with Israel is historic and culturally rich, and officially, its diplomatic relationship was initiated soon after signing the Oslo Accords in 1993 at a very low-key level. However, the relationship broke after the Al-Aqsa Intifada of 2000. After two decades, the Abraham Accord came into force on August 13, 2020, which led to the signing of the Normalisation Agreement on December 10, 2020, with Israel. The current defence agreement is the outcome of the Normalisation Agreement. The agreement aimed to advance the national security agendas of both countries to counter the threats of terrorism and radicalisation. However, the defence agreement has generated mixed responses from the region. This paper assesses the defence cooperation agreement between Israel and Morocco and its regional security implications.
The Defence Agreement
The Defence Minister of Israel, Benny Gantz, became the first Israeli minister to visit Morocco on November 24, 2021. During his visit, Gantz signed the MoU with Morocco’s Defence Minister Abdellatif Loudiyi to establish military relations. The MoU diversified the bilateral relationship to also include defence cooperation, arms sales, joint exercises, and intelligence sharing. In a statement given to the media, Gantz stated that the agreement was “very significant and will allow us to exchange ideas, enter joint projects, and enable Israeli military exports here.”
The agreement included co-production of a counter-drone system called Skylock Dome, though, without transferring technology to Morocco. Given Morocco’s internal security requirement and growing rivalry with neighbours such as Algeria, the country needs to acquire intelligence information, cyber security systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, and air defence systems, including protection against explosives-carrying battlefield drones, and military training and aid. The agreement, therefore, was termed by visiting Israel’s Defence Minister as the ‘strategic alliance of knowledge’ between Morocco and Israel. In addition, the two sides also exchanged views on the regional security situation and highlighted the similarity of challenges that both countries are facing such as terrorism, border security, and aerial threats.
Many, including media analysts in Morocco, are linking the growing Israel-Morocco proximity with old Morocco-Algeria rivalry, which over the year has aggravated because of alleged support of Algeria to the Polisario Front, considered by the government of Morocco as a terrorist group. Besides, a formal relationship between Morocco and Israeli defence ministers and militaries will facilitate sharing of information and build trust between the two sides.
Reactions from Arab World
The Gulf monarchies such as Oman and Bahrain governments found the agreement to be a breakthrough with the potential to boost peace in the region. Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan wrote on Twitter that “this step, a sovereign move contributes to strengthening our common quest for stability, prosperity and just and lasting peace in the region.” The Saudi monarchy supported the agreement. At the same time, Iran considered the agreement a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. In North Africa, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi welcomed the announcement and hailed that it is vital for regional stability and cooperation, while Tunisia termed it Morocco’s own choice as a sovereign country. On the contrary, the Algerian authority rejected Morocco’s agreement with Israel along with its claim over the Western Sahara. Also, the Islamist Movement of Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) “condemned” the defence agreement. They stated that the Arab peace plan (2002) emphasises that the normalisation of relations with Israel only comes after it ends the occupation of the Palestinian territories. On its part, the International Union of Muslim Scholars strongly criticised the defence agreement with Israel.
There are divisions within Morocco on the ties with Israel. The Islamists-led Justice and Development Party (PJD), and the Unity and Reform Movement (MUR) have called for the end of the normalisation of relations with Israel. The left-oriented civil society in Morocco also rejected the agreement with Israel.
The Morocco-Israel defence agreement is a step towards strengthening the ‘Abraham Accord’. The agreement has opened the gateway for other Arab countries to consider establishing diplomatic, defence, and economic relationships with Israel. Political developments in the North Africa region, however, are likely to test the first open defence cooperation between Israel and an Arab state, Morocco.
*Dr. Arshad, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are personal.
 It was signed between Israel and Palestinian Liberation Organization in Oslo, capital of Norway.
 It was the Second Intifada (uprising) of Palestinians against Israel.
 Gantz says Israel, Morocco leap together in historic agreement, Al-Monitor, November 26, 2021, accessed https://bit.ly/3IEPUPN, accessed December 12, 2021.
 It is a politico-military organisation in Western Sahara, seeking independence from Morocco.
 Iran: Morocco deal with Israel betrays Palestinians; Oman: It could boost peace, The Times of Israel, December 11, 2021, accessed https://bit.ly/3GS4yRY, December 16, 2021.
 It is an Islamic institution that brings together Muslim scholars from different countries of the world. It was founded in 2014.