Morocco Normalizes Relations With Israel

The country joins a growing list of Arab states that recognize the Jewish state.

Morocco last month became the latest Arab nation to normalize ties with the State of Israel—but all is not smooth sailing for the kingdom. A day after announcing the agreement, brokered by US President Donald Trump, the Trump administration notified Congress of a proposed $1 billion arms deal, stoking criticism that the president is fueling a regional arms race. Critics accuse the outgoing Trump administration of reverse-engineering the agreements to influence the narrative around his Middle East legacy during his final days in office.

As part of the deal, the US is to recognize Morocco’s disputed territorial claim over the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony possessing potentially lucrative mineral deposits, perhaps offshore oil and gas, and a population of over 500,000 who have long sought independence.

Whether the proposed arms sale is connected to the agreement between Morocco and Israel is not clear; but it follows the controversial sale of 50 F-35 stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, part of a $23 billion arms deal that includes Reaper drones and precision weapons. The UAE led a flurry of diplomatic activity when it sealed a groundbreaking agreement to normalize relations with Israel in August, quickly followed by Bahrain in September and Sudan in October, in what have been dubbed the Abraham Accords.

The arms sales could be a political double-edged sword, says Emily Hawthorne, Middle East and North Africa analyst at Stratfor.

“Better access to US military equipment is an added benefit for countries like Morocco and the UAE,” she says, “but it is arguable whether their recognition of Israel actually advanced meaningful peace in the region, given that these countries weren’t at war with Israel.”

The deal is another setback for stateless Palestinians, sidelined by Trump’s undisguised support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. According to the White House, the Morocco-Israel deal calls for the two countries to resume diplomatic relations as well as expand cultural and economic activity. Morocco maintained low-level diplomatic relations with Israel in the 1990s but suspended them in 2000 following the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada.

Attention now turns to Saudi Arabia amid speculation that Trump could use his remaining days in power to pull off a diplomatic coup by brokering a deal between Riyadh and Tel Aviv.