By: Driss KSSIM.
(Exclusively for al-Zaytouna Centre).
Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, launched by Hamas movement on October 7th, 2023, against Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip envelope, has strongly affected the geopolitical and geostrategic scene in the region. Morocco, as one of the Abraham Accords states, has normalized its relations with Israel, betting on military, security and economic benefits. Although the Israeli interest in maintaining its relationship with Morocco will remain, internal and external considerations will necessarily affect these relations both now and in the future.
On 7/10/2023, the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas launched a well-planned attack against Israel that took it by surprise. 1,219 Israelis were killed, and 240 people were captured. Israel responded by launching a fierce war not only against Hamas but targeting all the Gazans, more than 22,600 have been killed, most of them women and children. This attack is expected to have far-reaching consequences not only on the region, but its repercussions will be extended to the architecture of international and regional relations, in which Israel has been involved since the launch of the Abraham Accords process. Morocco is one of the pillars of this process, its normalization agreement with Israel has been integrated into its strategic and vital interests. However, Operation Al-Aqsa Flood has shattered all these calculations and expectations. This article looks at the repercussions and effects of the Hamas operation on Morocco, especially the choice to normalize and enhance cooperation with Israel.
Glimpse into Morocco’s Relationship with the Palestine Issue
Despite the geographical remoteness between Morocco and Palestine, the Kingdom was more or less involved in the Palestine issue. Furthermore, the Moroccan influence had marked some turning points in the history of the conflict with Israel. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Morocco had found the defeat as an opportunity to anchor its roles in the Middle East, and promote its vision about the conflict and the process solutions. Mediation was the basis: between Yasir ‘Arafat and King Hussein in 1974, which ended the conflict between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Jordan; between Egypt and Israel in the 1970s which opened the door to the Peace Treaty in 1979; between the Palestinian Authority and Israel at the height of Oslo Process; and having a larger role following the visit of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres to Rabat, after attending the signing ceremony of the Oslo Accords in Washington. In addition, the Kingdom shows its interests and concerns in the Palestine issue by chairing Al-Quds committee since 1975. This role makes it particularly relevant to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, especially when the core issue of Jerusalem arises in Israel-Palestinian negotiations.
However, it’s worth noting that some internal and external factors like the conflict of the Sahara, the challenges of development and the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace, etc. led to cooling relations between Israel and Morocco until December 2020, when the relations were revived with the Tripartite Agreement (Morocco, Israel and USA).
War in Gaza: Three Levels of Influence in the Moroccan Case
Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, which Hamas launched on 7/10/2023, has set off one of the largest military confrontations in history between the Palestinian Resistance and Israel. The strategic and military nature of the Israeli reaction, manifested in the unprecedented aggression, is a clear indication that the consequences and implications of the war will transcend the current moment. All actors, especially states that are concerned both directly or indirectly with the Palestinian question, will be affected; their calculations, choices and relations.
For Morocco, as is known, the normalization agreement with Israel has been related to geopolitical and geostrategic concerns: recognition of sovereignty over Western Sahara, arms and technology trade, intelligence cooperation and engagement in joint military drills. Also, the diplomatic and economic fields have witnessed an important shift and continued to enhance: a visit to Rabat by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected, and the second Abraham Accords summit was also expected to be held in Morocco. It was clear that the relations with Tel Aviv became a priority to Rabat, taking into account the need to enhance its position and strengthen its military capabilities in a tense regional context, due to the ongoing conflict with Algeria.
These issues will certainly be affected by the onslaught against Gaza, particularly on three levels: the relationship with Israel, regional implications and the impact of the popular demonstrations.
1. Relationship with Israel
Hamas’s harsh blow should force Israel to re-direct its military efforts, economic capabilities, expertise and even the diplomatic and political redeployment plans to one goal: restoring its “prestige” and rebuilding its military dominance undermined by the Hamas attack. The choice of discourse and language by Israel unmistakably imparts an existential and fateful nature to this war, underscoring its prolonged duration. The likelihood is high that the Abraham Accords and their consolidation plans would experience a phase of stagnation and setback, particularly if they fall short in ensuring Israel’s security. Consequently, they may not serve as a suitable framework for realizing gains or strategic benefits through Arab states’ normalization. For Morocco, all the Israeli promises about arms deals and sophisticated military technology couldn’t be implemented due to the security and military exhaustion and failure of Israel.
2. Regional Implications
The normalization agreement has not unfolded devoid of regional considerations, particularly given the mounting tension with Algeria, which has the potential to escalate into a military confrontation. This prospect gained momentum, especially after the Polisario Front declared the end of a 29-year ceasefire with Morocco in November 2020. This escalation occurred following Rabat’s use of force to displace separatists obstructing a strategic road to Mauritania. Therefore, the acceleration of Moroccan-Israeli relations, especially in the military and security aspects, can be attributed to the increasing tension between Morocco and Algeria. Furthermore, Morocco’s strategic goals in enhancing its cooperation with Israel extend beyond the North Africa region to encompass the European Union and West Africa, where Israel has a strong political, security and military influence. At this stage, Morocco realizes that Israel, preoccupied with the Gaza war, may not play a pivotal role in its calculations and bets. It’s very likely that the war will push Morocco to realign its foreign policy stance. Rabat has choices and alternatives, primarily involving strengthening its relations with its traditional partners. In other words, the events in Gaza will push the Kingdom to reassess the immediate priorities of its foreign policy, especially in its traditional strongholds in Europe and Africa.
On the other hand, the Moroccan regime has strongly condemned the Israeli assault, and refrained from criticizing Hamas’s attack. It’s a balancing policy adopted by the regime, which aims to maintain its symbolic commitment to the Palestine issue, avoid any internal criticism and refrain from diverging from the Arab consensus.
3. Popular Effect
Third, the unprecedented and unparalleled aggression against civilians in Gaza, especially women and children, is widening the chasm between Israel and some Arab normalization states. In Morocco, the regime has come under pressure from a popular front to cut ties with Israel. The war has moved the popular demonstrations into the realm of indirectly influencing the official position and decision. It’s worth noting that there was a belief that the Moroccan popular support for Palestine has decreased in view of the internal political transformations and in light of events that have dominated the Arab region in the Post-Arab Spring. In a similar vein, there is a trend in Morocco that believes that the Palestine issue isn’t a national question. Advocates of this view adopted the logic of “Taza before Gaza” (Taza is a poor and marginalized city on the southern slopes of the Rif mountains range), referring to the priority of internal and national preoccupations. Operation Al-Aqsa Flood is credited with reviving the collective Arab memory of Palestine, especially in its popular aspect. The narratives of resistance, liberation and support were recalled, and popular demonstrations that have been taking place since 7/10/2023, in different Moroccan cities, including the march held in Rabat on 15/10/2023, showed that the overwhelming majority of the Moroccan people are in solidarity with Gaza and condemn the Israeli attacks. Moreover, these events have underscored that the Palestine issue and anti-normalization continue to be unifying factors among different political forces, especially the Islamic and leftist opposition groups.
Since the signing of the Moroccan-US-Israeli tripartite agreement in December 2020, Moroccan government has largely bet on the relationship with Israel and has considered that cooperation and coordination in the military, security and economic spheres could grant important strategic benefits and regional superiority. Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, and the fierce Israeli war, are likely to have a negative impact on the Moroccan expectations from the relationship with Tel Aviv, and may even halt the normalization process under domestic and regional pressure.
 Einat Levi et al., Morocco and the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, site of Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, March 2021, https://mitvim.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/English-Einat-Levi-Roee-Kibrik-Nimrod-Goren-Morocco-and-the-Peace-Process-March-2021.pdf (Accessed: 28/11/2023)
 For additional insights into the context of this agreement, see Isma‘il Hammoudi, Morocco and Israel: Deepening Relations Despite the Saudi-Iranian Agreement, site of Al Jazeera Center for Studies, 25/5/2023, https://studies.aljazeera.net/ar/article/5651 (Accessed: 29/11/2023) (in Arabic)
 Said Saddiki, Morocco and the War in Gaza: The Dilemma of Principles and Interests, site of Euromesco, November 2023, https://www.euromesco.net/publication/morocco-and-the-war-in-gaza-the-dilemma-of-principles-and-interests/ (Accessed: 1/12/2023)
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 5/1/2024