A piece in El Español on Nov. 16 informed of a supposed agreement between Israel and Morocco to establish a joint military base in the Arab country. The news appears in the context of the current visit to Morocco of Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who just signed a memorandum of understanding to formalize defense ties.
The piece, which makes no reference to any source, is not only speculative; it’s both improbable and suspicious. For one thing, it’s very unlikely that Israel, a country that has not a single military base outside of its territory—aside from listening posts in the Horn of Africa—is going to establish a military base on the other side of the Mediterranean.
It is natural that the proximity of Morocco generates in Spain a special informative interest, but in matters of this importance, we should be careful with exaggerations or rumors by one of the many parties that might want to create confusion among the players involved: Spain, the United States, Israel, Morocco, France or Algeria.
Regardless of the interest that underlies the “news” about the military cooperation, it would be infantile to see the emerging alliance of Israel with a country like Morocco, which has various ongoing disputes with Spain, as a declaration of hostility on the part of the Israeli government towards Spain.
In the first place, the increasing ties between Israel and Morocco are included in the Abraham Accords, through which the Jewish state has normalized its relations with numerous, previously hostile Arab countries. In the second place, the main regional enemy of Morocco, against which it seeks to rearm itself, is Algeria, a country with which its relations have deteriorated dangerously. In the third place, Morocco has a serious problem with jihadism, latent in the heart of the country and threatening its southern border.
It is logical that to counteract these threats, it reaches agreements with a country like Israel, which has proven experience with and knowledge about fighting that common enemy (which, by the way, is also an enemy of Spain).
Thus, the intensification of the Israeli cooperation with Morocco cannot be interpreted as a challenge against Spain, as it is part of a wider trend that responds to one of the strategic priorities of the Jewish state: to make allies of the old enemies and put an end to its isolation in the Arab world.
Successive Israeli governments, like all rational political entities, have acted in accordance with the country’s interests. Needless to say, the fact that Israel has begun improving and normalizing its relations with Morocco does not automatically mean that it’s putting the interests of Rabat first; nor does it mean that it’s out to worsen relations with Madrid.
No government can expect another country to renounce its fundamental objectives for no other reason than to avoid making a third state uncomfortable, especially when the supposedly affected country constantly ignores the worries of the government from which it expects deference.
The ridiculous demand of an asymmetric relationship
The choice of Morocco as a preferred partner in the area, not of Israel, but fundamentally of the U.S., cannot be understood without looking at Spain’s foreign policy, which has an irresponsible bias against the U.S. that inevitably has to have consequences. The hostility of Madrid towards Washington has made it consider others as more reliable allies, to Spain’s detriment.
Decisions about Morocco do not automatically make the U.S. or Israel anti-Spanish, and Spain has to abandon the naïve idea of the permanent rights of a preferred ally without diplomatic reciprocity.
Since the reigns of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Mariano Rajoy, and even more since the arrival of the socialist-communist coalition in the Spanish government, the strategy of Spanish diplomacy towards Israel has consisted fundamentally of hostile actions with more or less intensity against our ally, while simultaneously demanding from it a firm, unquestionable loyalty—like that which Israel offered to Spain in support of its national unity against the separatist challenge of Catalonia.
The government of Spain systematically disdains Israeli concerns regarding issues such as the financing of terrorism, to which Spanish institutions controlled by the parties in the government contribute under the cover of humanitarian aid. Also, Spain has no problem in cultivating the friendship with a regime that openly calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, such as Iran, whose vice chancellor was received by the Spanish government just a few days ago. That Iran is far from being a strategic partner, or even important for Spain, makes clear the indifference that the government of Pedro Sánchez shows towards the sensitivities of Israel and the U.S.
The interests of Spain and Israel are solidly aligned, if the Spanish government wants them to be
Spain is a country with much more economic and political weight than Morocco. According to historical criteria and political culture, it should be a natural partner of Israel in the Western Mediterranean. But the attitude towards Israel of subsequent Spanish governments, especially the current one, puts obstacles in the road to this alliance. It is far from Spain’s strategic interests for Jerusalem to put its relationship with Madrid in second place behind approaching another, much less relevant, country in the area—but at least one that is open to establishing a fruitful cooperation.
Not only has Spain renounced vigorously cultivating bonds with Israel, but events such as the abandonment of Iraq and Zapatero’s insult to the American flag—together with the dangerous friendships of the parties in the government that don’t miss an opportunity to ally themselves with the enemies of the free world—have reduced to an almost historical minimum Spain’s relations with the U.S.
The U.S. has played a key role in the rapprochement between Israel and the signatories to the Abraham Accords. Unlike Spain, Morocco takes care of and promotes its relations with the U.S., which strengthens the Alawi kingdom in the race for regional hegemony, in which Madrid is behind Paris.
The short-sighted, counterproductive and even suicidal blind following by the Spanish foreign-affairs ministry of its French counterpart (with which Spain has opposing interests in North Africa and the Middle East) is largely responsible for the weakness of its strategic position. Beyond any sentimental or ideological element that the Western Sahara has for many Spaniards, and despite how much the errors of the past may hurt, the viability of a most likely failed state in the Sahara is but a chimera fueled by Algeria to destabilize Morocco.
Only a hyper-ideological government such as Spain’s can continue holding on to the dying remnants of the Cold War, such as the cause of the Polisario Front in North Africa or the Palestinian chimera in the Middle East.
The opportunity for Spain in the new vectors of prosperity
If Spain had maintained the privileged relationship that it once enjoyed with the U.S., the entry of Morocco into the Abraham Accords would have been enormously beneficial to Madrid, as well. Here is where the parameters of Spanish foreign policy, especially regarding Israel and the Middle East, show their outdated, sclerotic nature.
While Spain continues to take the bait of the Palestinians (when a large and growing part of the Arab world has ceased doing so), it remains absent and with its back to the tectonic movements and trends of prosperity that are being generated between Israel and the Arab world, and that reach its southern border.
Under the American protection to which it owes so much, Rabat would have been forced to cooperate more sincerely and intensely with Madrid in matters of immigration and terrorism, among other issues. Paradoxically, Spain’s obscene diplomatic neglect has increased the pressure of Morocco’s populist regime, which literally doesn’t hesitate to launch its own people against the Spanish border, and at the same time has given oxygen to the Polisario Front, a terrorist group with a long history of murdering Spanish citizens.
The prosperity that the agreement between Morocco and Israel will bring could also be an opportunity for Spain, which is interested in a striving Morocco whose king does not need nationalistic movements of distraction that invariably victimize its neighbor in the north. Spain is not interested in a troubled Morocco, but in a prosperous one. Such prosperity, in great measure, depends on Spain.
Finally, the ever-improving relations between the defense and intelligence sectors of Israel and Morocco can contribute enormously to the safety and protection of Spain’s borders. But this is only if Madrid takes advantage of the influence that a particularly reliable ally in matters of terrorism and geopolitics is winning in the highest spheres of an ambiguous, but not irrecoverable, regime such as Rabat.
It is the politics of the socialist-communist government of Sánchez, incapable of accepting the negative international consequences of his actions by permanently annoying Spain’s natural allies—not those of a constructive, democratic and loyal force in the region like Israel—that should be worrying Spaniards about Morocco’s reencounter with the Jewish state.
Angel Mas is the president of ACOM, the principal organization in Spain countering the BDS movement.