Western Sahara, 80% of which is controlled by Morocco, has extensive phosphate reserves and rich fishing grounds in the Atlantic. Algeria has long hosted and supported the Polisario Front, which seeks full independence for the territory and has called for a self-determination referendum under UN supervision, as provided for in a 1991 ceasefire agreement.
Morocco has been working on rearmament for some time, since it broke off diplomatic relations with Algeria. Tension in North Africa due to the disengagement between the two countries has escalated significantly in the last three months.
The power in Western Sahara was the main trigger for certain ties that were essential, especially for the supply of gas to countries like Spain. The arms race between Rabat and Algiers is now entering a new chapter with the dispatch of a military fleet from the United Arab Emirates to the Alawite kingdom.
The normalisation of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel – in exchange for US recognition of Morocco‘s sovereignty over its territory – has exacerbated tensions with Algeria, a supporter of the Palestinian question.
Morocco and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding on security and intelligence cooperation during a visit to Rabat by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz.
In September 2020, Morocco resumed relations with Israel as part of the US-backed Abraham Accords, during which several Arab states established relations with Israel.
In recent months, Rabat has strengthened its ties with important long-term allies such as Israel. Ambassador David Govrin‘s statement was the first move that hinted at what was about to happen between the two countries. After that, the Moroccans and Israelis signed an “unprecedented” security agreement, according to Israeli Defence Minister Benny Ganz.
The Kingdom‘s acquisition of the Iron Dome defence systems from Rafael Advanced Defence Systems is one of the most important under the memorandum of understanding sealed at the end of November with Minister Gantz‘s visit to the Kingdom of Alawites.
The Emirates, on the other hand, recognise Morocco‘s authority in Western Sahara and Morocco does the same with the UAE‘s authority in the islands of Greater and Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa. The historic ties that unite Abu Dhabi and Rabat greatly facilitate cooperation between two countries that should be regional leaders. For this reason, the Emirates are approaching their Moroccan ally at a time of great complexity due to the conflict with Algeria. It also does so with Egypt, another Emirati ally, with whom the kingdom will share the 68 fighters that the United Arab Emirates will send to both countries.
According to Atalayar, the following scenario has emerged since yesterday: that the 59 Mirage 2000-9s (68 in total with 9 more of an older type) that the United Arab Emirates Air Force has in Morocco and Egypt are being considered for transfer (or sale at a low price) to strengthen their own air forces. The UAE will replace these Mirages with the recently announced order for 80 Rafale aircraft.
The rationale for this action – if true as it cannot yet be cross-checked – is multiple. On the one hand, the Emirates appear as a major financier and benefactor of two important Arab countries in North Africa, creating its own axis of power within the Arab-Islamic world. Good relations with Egypt are a given and are now being strengthened with Morocco, where the Emirates also appear to support the latter‘s claim to Western Sahara, where a long-standing conflict with the local Polisario front is taking place.
A second reading of this possible development is that through the Emirates, France is expanding its own influence in the region. Paris has already made major arms sales to Egypt (Mistral helicopter carriers, FREMM frigate, Rafale fighters) and Morocco, while the sale of eight H225 Caracal helicopters is already under discussion. While of course the resale or concession of the Emirati Mirage can only be done with the permission and support of Paris.
The third reading is the strengthening of a “triangle” of Islamic countries, Emirates-Egypt-Morocco, as a counterweight to the fundamentalist excesses observed in Libya and Turkey. The “triangle” may well become a “square“, including Tunisia, which is in the midst of great political turmoil, with President Kais Saied having abolished parliament and ruling through an appointed government.
If all of the above is true, we see major changes and rallies with new poles of power taking place within the Arab world: Egypt maintains its leading position but is strengthening and partially ceding scepters to the Emirates, Saudi Arabia follows and seeks its own alliance, Qatar is strengthening Turkey but also looking to the East, Turkey is looking everywhere to revive its broken relations.