RABAT, Morocco – Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding with his Moroccan counterpart, the first agreement of its kind between Israel and an Arab state ever, Israeli officials said.
The agreement formalized the defense ties between the two countries, allowing for smoother cooperation between their defense institutions and making it easier for Israel to sell arms to the North African empire.
With the signing of the MOU, the two countries’ defense ministries and military can more easily talk to each other and share intelligence, whereas such communication was previously only possible through their respective intelligence services.
“It will allow the beginning of official security cooperation between the two [countries]. The agreement includes the formalization of intelligence sharing and will allow for links between their defense industries, defense procurement and joint exercises, ”said the Ministry of Defense.
A Defense Ministry official said that although Israel maintains close security ties with Jordan and Egypt, as it also has peace agreements, it does not have memoranda of understanding with them., making the agreement with Morocco “unprecedented.”
“We have just signed an agreement on military cooperation – with all that it entails – with the nation of Morocco. This is a very significant event that will allow us to take part in joint projects and allow Israelis [defense] exports for this purpose. “I think the ties between Morocco and Israel need to continue to grow closer, to continue to develop and expand, and I’m glad we have a role to play in that,” Gantz said after signing.
Gantz landed Tuesday night in the Moroccan capital for the first official visit by an Israeli defense minister to the country after the two normalized ties last year.
The Minister of Defense began his journey on Wednesday with a visit to the tomb of Muhammad V and Hassan II, grandfather and father of the current king, Muhammad VI, respectively. On the spot, Gantz laid wreaths on the graves of the deceased monarchs.
From there, he traveled to Morocco’s Ministry of Defense and met with his counterpart, Abdellatif Loudiyi, to sign the MOUs.
Prior to the trip, which he described as “historic”, Gantz said the goal was to strengthen ties between Jerusalem and Rabat, which resumed diplomatic relations last year as part of then-US President Donald Trump’s so-called Abraham agreement. As part of the agreement, Washington recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Under the Abrahamic agreements, Israel also normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and, in principle, with Sudan, although the country’s turbulent political situation has made it difficult for the two to sign a formal agreement.
For Morocco, the visit of Israel’s defense minister – whose office can approve the sale of advanced Israeli weapons and defense systems – probably serves as a signal of strength to its neighbor Algeria, with which it has quarreled over its support for the Polisario front movement. which calls for an independent state in Western Sahara.
In addition to Gantz’s tour representing the first official visit of a Defense Minister, it was the first time that Israeli Defense Forces in uniform visited Morocco. Three IDF officers from the minister’s office were in the delegation, two of whom were of Moroccan origin – the minister’s military secretary, Brig. Gen. Yaki Dolf, whose parents were born in Morocco, and Colonel Noam Arbeli, whose mother was born in Morocco and moved to Israel in 1961. About 700,000 Israelis are estimated to have Moroccan roots.
“It’s very exciting, very exciting,” Arbeli told The Times of Israel.
Later on Wednesday, Gantz was also due to meet with Moroccan Armed Forces Chief Abdelfattah Louarak and Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita. On Thursday, the defense minister was scheduled to visit the Talmud Torah synagogue in Rabat before leaving for Israel on Thursday night.
It will be the second state visit by an Israeli elected official.
Since last year, after the two countries normalized ties, Jerusalem and Rabat have signed a series of memoranda of understanding on issues including civil aviation, oil drilling, water resources research and funding. The two countries also reopened their respective liaison offices, which had been closed after Morocco halted relations with Israel at the beginning 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 number of agreements. The two countries are ultimately planning to transform these liaison offices into complete embassies, although no specific date has been set for that.