Israel now knows what it is like to participate in a military exercise on Moroccan soil. In a communiqué, the Israeli Defence Ministry announced that two officers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli military attaché in Morocco had participated as observers in the international African Lion manoeuvres, held in the Alawite kingdom between 20 and 30 June.
Members of the @MoroccanArmed work with U.S. Forces during a #CBRNE demonstration hosted by the Moroccan military during #AfricanLion22.— U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (@SETAF_Africa) July 2, 2022
📸 by Sgt. 1st Class Katie Theusch, @USArmy pic.twitter.com/8Uo5MQi9yM
Up to 10 countries took part in the exercise, including the United States, France, Brazil, Italy and the United Kingdom, as well as NATO observers, for a total of 7,500 troops deployed in the Moroccan cities of Agadir, Kenitra, Tan-Tan, Tarudant and Mahbes.
Officials from the IMoD and the IDF participated in an international military exercise in Morocco for the first time this past week: “African Lion 2022”, led by AFRICOM and the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces. @MoroccanArmed pic.twitter.com/rkjIIjyFtj— Ministry of Defense (@Israel_MOD) July 2, 2022
"Israel's participation in the exercise is another step in strengthening our security relations," the Israeli statement said. This is the second military exercise involving the two armies, following the dispatch of a Moroccan Royal Armed Forces (FAR) unit to international anti-terrorist exercises in southern Israel.
Morocco and Israel have had strong ties for decades, but the Kingdom severed relations with Israel during the Second Intifada in Palestine, although it maintained significant unofficial cooperation. However, in 2020 Rabat joined the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in the Abraham Accords, normalising relations with Tel Aviv.
Morocco then obtained in return the Trump administration's recognition of the Moroccan ownership of Western Sahara, a strong diplomatic endorsement of the Kingdom's efforts to resolve the conflict through an autonomy plan.
Since then, bilateral relations with Israel have improved rapidly, especially in the area of defence. In November, Benny Gantz became the first Israeli Defence Minister to make a public visit to the North African country, signing a memorandum of understanding to solidify security relations between the two countries, the first such agreement Tel Aviv has made with an Arab country.
Moreover, in March, senior Israeli IDF officers made the first official visit of the Israeli armed forces to the Kingdom, and last week Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked did the same, further deepening bilateral military cooperation.
Recently, Israel's then Foreign Minister and now acting Prime Minister Yair Lapid expressed Tel Aviv's support for Morocco's autonomy plan for Western Sahara, stating that Israel would work together to oppose 'attempts to undermine Moroccan sovereignty and territorial integrity'.
Morocco has been building up its armed forces for several years, seeking to match Algerian capabilities, and increased cooperation with Israel could open the door to a powerful defence industry and increased intelligence sharing with Israel's powerful Mossad agency.
Moreover, a strengthened relationship with Israel may also mean increased cooperation with the United States, a key military partner, and avoid a potential 180-degree turn on the Sahara issue from the Oval Office, as some voices in Washington are calling for
Morocco's King Mohammed VI chairs the so-called Al-Quds Committee, a body of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation aimed at supporting the Palestinian cause, but this has not stopped the Kingdom's defence and intelligence ties with Israel from growing.
Last week the Foreign Ministers of Morocco, Israel, the UAE, the US, Egypt and Bahrain met in Manama to establish the Negev Forum, in what a senior Israeli official described as 'the beginning of a regional alliance'.