Gantz takes off for Morocco to ink defense deals, buoy ties
First Israeli defense minister to make trip calls visit ‘a touch historic,’ will meet Moroccan counterpart, foreign minister, head of armed forces
23 Nov 2021, 9:53 pm
Defense Minister Benny Gantz ahead of his flight to Morocco, on November 23, 2021. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz took off on Tuesday evening for Rabat, where he will be the first defense minister to visit Morocco in an official capacity.
Before boarding his plane at Ben Gurion Airport, Gantz offered brief remarks to reporters, calling the two-day trip “a touch historic” and revealing that he would be signing a number of defense cooperation deals with Moroccan counterparts.
“We will strengthen our ties,” the defense minister added before getting on his El Al flight to Morocco.
While in Rabat, Gantz is scheduled to hold a number of high-level meetings with Moroccan Defense Minister Abdellatif Loudiyi, Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, armed forces chief Abdelfattah Louarak, and others.
Gantz will also visit the Talmud Torah synagogue in Rabat before taking off for Israel on Thursday evening.
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It will be the second state visit by an Israeli elected official since the two countries normalized ties last year in a deal brokered by former United States president Donald Trump’s administration. As part of the agreement, Washington recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
The national flags of Israel and Morocco are projected on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, on December 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
The trip aims to “set the foundation for all future security cooperation between Israel and Morocco,” a source familiar with the visit told AFP.
“Until now there has been some level of cooperation. This truly formalizes it,” the source said.
Since last year, after the two countries normalized ties, Jerusalem and Rabat have signed a number of memoranda of understanding on issues like civil aviation, petroleum drilling, water resource research and finance. The two countries also reopened their respective liaison offices, which had been shuttered after Morocco halted ties with Israel at the outset of the Second Intifada in 2000.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Morocco in August to officially open the Israeli Liaison Office in Rabat, as well as meet with officials and sign a series of agreements.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (right) sign three framework agreements in Rabat, on August 11, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
The deals that were expected to be signed during Gantz’s visit were set to include a number of agreements pertaining to arms sales from Israel to Morocco and other defense-related issues.
The Defense Ministry oversees all weapons exports, with Israel offering state-of-the-art products ranging from attack drones to the vaunted Iron Dome missile defense system.
One Israeli product, NSO’s Pegasus spyware, has already made its way to Morocco, causing a minor diplomatic tiff, according to Amnesty International and Paris-based organization 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 International. The incident strained relations between Paris and Jerusalem.
A spokeswoman for Gantz would not comment on NSO or other possible defense technologies set to be discussed during the visit.
Polisario Front elderly soldier prays during a shooting exercise, near Mehaires, Western Sahara, on October 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Gantz’s trip comes as tensions over Western Sahara have flared between Morocco and Algeria, which backs the Polisario Front independence movement.
“It’s possible that in the context of the Moroccan-Algerian tensions, the Moroccans were the ones who were keen on this,” said Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, an Israeli expert on Morocco. “It would seem to me that the Moroccans are the ones who are keen on showing everybody — their own public, their Algerian rivals, the West — that they are deepening their relationship with Israel.”
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