Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) signs a memorandum of understanding with his counterpart, Moroccan Minister Delegate to the Head of Government in Charge of National Defense Abdellatif Loudiyi, Nov. 24, 2021. Credit: Ariel Hermoni/Israeli Defense Ministry.
by Steve Postal
(JNS) — Relations between Morocco and Israel are booming.
Just this month, the countries signed a natural gas exploration deal and are working on a “Cyber Iron Dome” to protect computer systems and networks. In Oct. 2022, bilateral trade totaled $12.3 million, up 925 percent from Oct. 2021. Israel is building a permanent embassy building in Rabat and is set to open a separate trade mission in 2023.
Morocco, Israel and the United States signed a joint declaration in Rabat on Dec. 22, 2020 announcing the opening of a “new era in the relations between the Kingdom of Morocco and the State of Israel.” Twelve days earlier, President Donald Trump had announced that the U.S. had brokered a deal between the two Mediterranean countries, and that the United States had recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
The Abraham Accords normalization agreement followed previous agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
Diplomatic and geostrategic significance
Avi Melamed, a former Israeli intelligence official and the author of Inside The Middle East: Entering A New Era, told JNS that “given Morocco’s location, normalization with Rabat increases and deepens the potential for cooperation between Israel and countries in West Africa.”
“Indeed, in 2021 Morocco supported Israel rejoining the African Union as an observer. For Israel, gaining observer status in the African Union was a political victory and reflected the improvement of its status on the continent,” he said.
Melamed also sees Moroccan-Israel normalization as important to the United States in countering Russian influence in Algeria and Libya, Iranian influence in North Africa and Islamist influence in North and West Africa.
Two years on, Morocco and Israel have accumulated several key wins in their relationship.
Israel Aerospace Industries and Morocco signed a memorandum of understanding in the aeronautics sector earlier this year.
Sharon Biton, vice president for the MENA region at IAI, told JNS, “Our cooperation with Morocco involves transfer of technology and knowledge to enable Morocco to have its own aerospace ecosystem, which we are very proud of. We are currently working with our partners to establish aeronautics factories in Morocco.”
IAI also signed a memorandum of understanding with the International University of Rabat (UIR) to boost cooperation in scientific research and innovation.
According to Biton, “UIR has expressed interest in various things, including electro-optics. We are looking into more ways to partner with Morocco, including through its universities because while they are not our main clients, we see the opportunity in working together to benefit the next generation. As an Israeli of Moroccan descent, I would love to see Moroccan engineers working shoulder-to-shoulder with Israelis at IAI in mutual development. One way to realize that dream is through cooperation with Moroccan universities.”
Jerusalem and Rabat also signed an MOU on intelligence sharing and security cooperation, and Israel sent observers to the African Lion 2022 military exercise in Morocco. While there, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi discussed cooperation between Israel and Morocco’s air forces.
Lastly, the police forces of Morocco and Israel have increased cooperation. For example, they have agreed to cooperate in investigating instances where Israeli criminals flee to Morocco.
Mutually beneficial partnership
Aviva Steinberger, director of Innovation Diplomacy at Start-Up Nation Central (SNC), a nonprofit organization that connects Israeli innovation to the world, told JNS that “Israel seeks to leverage its innovation ecosystem and Morocco’s role as a major regional player in North and West Africa to expand the impact of technological solutions in that region, especially in the water, energy, agriculture and food sectors.”
In May, SNC co-organized the three-day “Morocco-Israel Connect to Innovate” conference in Casablanca that brought together 250 business leaders from the two countries and focused on ways to collaborate in the agrifood-tech, water-tech, energy, logistics and human capital sectors.
Participants signed 13 MOUs at the conference’s opening ceremony.
Water and agriculture
Israel’s national water company Mekorot and Morocco’s National Office for Electricity and Drinking Water (ONEE) signed an MOU for cooperation in incorporating innovative technologies to address desalination and drinking water treatment.
SNC was integral in brokering this deal, Steinberger told JNS.
“Morocco is interested in the experience of Israel’s ecosystem-building journey, and this water tech cooperation is one prime example since water security is a major concern in Morocco’s urban centers and periphery. The country has been experiencing the worst drought it’s seen in decades, with cities like Marrakesh needing to close their taps for significant portions of the day. Collaboration with Israel can directly impact the citizens of Morocco,” she said.
Israel’s Volcani Center and the Moroccan National Institute of Agronomy agreed to cooperate in smart and green agriculture as well as the genetic improvement of wheat.
Israeli company Mehadrin Tnuport Export announced that it will grow avocados in Morocco.
Additionally, Israeli smart precision agricultural company SupPlant joined in a partnership with Morocco’s Rahatech to provide Mehadrin’s Smart Agriculture to Moroccan farmers.
Hi-tech and human capital
The two countries have agreed to cooperate in several hi-tech arenas, including artificial intelligence, biotechnology, desert technologies, food processing technologies, information technology, medical technologies, smart cities and space.
Israel has the potential to assist the North African country in developing its human capital, Steinberger told JNS. “While Morocco is investing in strong technology programs in its universities, a lot of junior to mid-level tech talent is leaving Morocco in a brain drain. Cooperation with Israel creates local opportunities in Morocco that will help reverse this trend.”
Israir and El Al started Tel Aviv to Marrakech direct flight routes, and Israir signed an agreement with Morocco to promote tourism to the country. Royal Air Maroc started flights from Casablanca to Tel Aviv. The countries also signed an agreement to increase innovation and maintenance in the civilian aerospace industry.
Education and research
The International University of Rabat signed an agreement to collaborate in scientific research with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The University of Haifa signed an MOU on marine research with Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Tetouan.
Ben-Gurion University and Mohammed VI Polytechnic University established a doctoral student exchange program. The Moroccan school also signed an academic cooperation agreement with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Morocco is now including Morocco’s Jewish history in its textbooks.
Culture and religion
King Mohammed VI officially recognized the Jewish community as part of Moroccan culture.
Morocco also opened its House of Memory museum in Essaouira to commemorate the historical coexistence of the city’s Muslims and Jews.
The International University of Rabat and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev signed an MOU to collectively study Moroccan Jewry and the interaction between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa.
Lastly, Morocco inaugurated the first synagogue at a university in the Arab world, at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University near Marrakech.