The sending of Israeli soldiers to exercises in Morocco threatens to increase tension in the Maghreb | International

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The maneuvers coordinated by the United States African Lion (African Lion) —the largest on the continent, with more than 8,000 soldiers from 18 countries mobilized for two weeks— began this Tuesday in Morocco, the host country, marked by the threat of an increase in the tension in the Maghreb. In an unprecedented deployment in the western Mediterranean, Israel has sent a group of soldiers to the North African country who will actively participate in the pan-African military exercise.

In this edition of African Lion it is planned, according to Morocco, that some of the operations will also take place for the first time around Mahbes, some 45 kilometers from the border with the Algerian province of Tindouf, in Western Sahara. This territory was a Spanish colony until 1975 and since then 80% of its surface has been under Moroccan control, while the remaining 20% ​​is in the hands of the Saharawi pro-independence militias of the Polisario Front. Neighboring Algeria, which broke diplomatic relations with Rabat in 2021, has responded by concentrating troops on the international dividing line, according to the information portal Maghreb Intelligence.

"Soldiers will focus on training for various combat challenges, combining open and covert combat, and will conclude with a joint exercise by all participating armies," the soldiers said. Israeli Armed Forces this Monday in a statement in which they reported that their forces traveled to the North African country on Sunday. The objective of the exercises in Morocco is to "strengthen the relationship between the countries" and "create an opportunity for mutual learning that allows for the sharing of knowledge," they added. There will be only 12 soldiers and commanders of the reconnaissance battalion of the Golani brigade, but the invitation is full of symbolism.

First, because it shows the progress of military cooperation between the two countries since they normalized their relations in December 2020, within the framework of the Abraham Accords and in exchange for recognition by the United States (then chaired by Donald Trump) of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara. Last year, the Israeli military only participated in the exercises as international military observers. Second, because the Golani brigade is an elite infantry unit that frequently operates in the occupied West Bank, and a majority of Moroccans sympathize with the Palestinian cause.

The African Lion exercises include operational planning exercises and the fight against weapons of mass destruction, as well as land, sea, air and special forces tactical training, among others, which will be extended to Tunisia, Senegal and Ghana. Half of the participating forces are from the United States, and the rest from African and European countries, among which Spain does not appear. There are also troops from Brazil, as well as military observers from about twenty nations. The Inspector General of the Moroccan Armed Forces, General Mohamed Berrid, the highest military authority after King Mohamed VI, has assured that the exercises take place in "a geopolitical context of crisis".

Most of the land operations will be concentrated to the south of the coastal city of Agadir (550 kilometers south of Rabat), headquarters of the southern General Staff. Among the locations planned by the Moroccan Armed Forces for military training is the Mahbes area, in Western Sahara, a few tens of kilometers from the Saharawi refugee camps established by the Polisario Front in the Algerian province of Tindouf. A US diplomatic spokesman consulted by this newspaper specified, however, that the southernmost point in Morocco where the troops will operate is located in Greir Labouihi, in the province of Tan Tan, outside the territory of the former colony. Spanish. In both 2021 and 2022, the US vetoed the development of the exercises in Saharawi territory. Intense fighting between Moroccan troops and Saharawi militias took place in the Mahbes area before the ceasefire signed in 1991 by both parties, until the Polisario resumed hostilities in December 2020, reigniting the open armed conflict.

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Algerian President Abdelmayid Tebun reviews troops on Independence Day, July 5, 2022, in Algiers.Anadolu Agency (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Algeria has received the Israeli military presence in Morocco as a "threat to its security", according to the information portal TSA Algeria. He also sees the programming of military exercises in "occupied Saharawi territories" as a "provocation". The President of Algeria, Abdelmajid Tebún, and the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, General Said Chengriha, participated on Thursday in a special meeting dedicated to the "security situation at the borders", according to an official statement cited by the press. Algerian. The army has concentrated troops and deployed military means on the common border, according to the digital Maghreb Intelligencewhich cites the Hammaguir area, more than 1,000 kilometers southwest of the Algerian capital, and a few tens of kilometers from the Moroccan border, in the province of Bechar, as the point with the greatest deployment of forces.

Bechar was the scene six decades ago of the so-called War of the Sands, waged by troops from Algeria and Morocco due to territorial disputes shortly after both countries achieved independence. Algeria announced last fall joint exercises with Russian troops, its main arms supplier, in the Hammaguir area, although it finally said that the Desert Shield exercises "had not taken place" in a laconic statement read on state television.

The military mobilizations on the desert border coincide with an escalation of regional rearmament. Algeria has announced that it will increase its military budget by 130% in 2023 to reach 12% of its gross domestic product (GDP), thanks to the economic boom derived from the rise in gas and oil prices, its main exports. . Morocco is preparing to exceed 5% of GDP in defense spending. The military items of the European countries move in a range of between 2% and 4% of GDP.

Drones and missiles to alter the balance of forces

The military cooperation of the Jewish State with Morocco advances despite the fact that the Israeli government is the most right-wing in the country's history. It is a coalition of the conservative party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with ultra-Orthodox and ultra-nationalists with violent anti-Arab rhetoric. Something that does not prevent that, just during the African Lion maneuvers, Amir Ohana is going to become this Wednesday the first president of the Knesset (Legislative Chamber) to visit the Parliament of a Muslim country. Ohana, whose parents were Moroccan Jews who immigrated to Israel, is scheduled to participate in a press conference and sign a memorandum of understanding with his Rabat counterpart Rachid Talbi El Alami. The visit will take place barely a week after the Israeli Minister of Transport, Miri Regev (also of Moroccan origin), signed three agreements in the Moroccan capital.

A central element in the alliance between the two countries - which already existed in secret before the normalization of relations - are drones. Israel hardly specifies its arms sales, but various journalistic reports suggest that Rabat has acquired five of its models of unmanned aircraft: Hermes 900, WanderB, Heron, ThunderB and Harfang. Also, for 500 million dollars (468 million euros), the Barak MX integrated defense system, which protects against both drones and missiles. The military cooperation agreement signed in November 2021 by the former Israeli Executive includes a plan to build two Harop factories in Morocco, suicide drones that are difficult to detect by radar that contributed to Azerbaijan's victory in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. Eight months later In the first official visit to Morocco by an Israeli Chief of Staff, General Aviv Kojavi highlighted the "role" of his Armed Forces in "creating a future of collaboration" with Rabat, within the framework of the "historic change" it is going through the region.

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