In Donald Trump’s final month in office, he’s handed Bibi Netanyahu yet another gift while further restricting Pres.-elect Biden’s Middle East policy options. Today, Morocco announced it would normalize relations with Israel, becoming the fourth Arab state to do so. But the price was steep: it demanded that the U.S. recognize Morocco’s conquest of the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by its indigenous inhabitants and their national movement, the Polisario Liberation Front. The Polisario have been fighting for independence for decades, since Spain retreated from its colony, and Morocco replaced it as the ruling colonial power.
No international body has recognized Moroccan claims to the territory. In the same way that virtually no country or global body has recognized Israeli claims to Palestine–except Donald Trump. Previous U.S. governments have been in accord with this consensus and also withheld recognition. But Trump broke with decades of U.S. policy and recognized Israeli sovereignty over Palestine, the Golan and Jerusalem. In effect, pre-empting any potential recognition of a Palestinian state by a future U.S. government and effectively rendering the two-state option moot.
The Trump administration announced a planned sale of $1-billion worth of U.S. drones and precision guided missiles to Morocco This sweetens the deal for a president who sees personal and political interests in purely mercenary terms. Presumably, these will be excellent means for Moroccan intelligence and military to surveil their Polisario adversaries and kill them if necessary.
Moroccan normalization mirrored the same process followed regarding Sudan. It too desperately sought a carrot only the U.S. could provide: its previous Islamist government had sheltered Osama bin Laden and provided safe haven for other Islamist terrorists. In response, the federal government added Sudan to its international terrorist list. It also permitted numerous lawsuits against the country’s government by survivors of various terror attacks to which the former government was allegedly linked. This effectively shut off any potential U.S. aid or commercial contacts. This black list also deprived Sudan of legitimacy and isolated it internationally.
After the overthrow of dictator Omar Bashir, the new government faces enormous economic difficulty and dire poverty. Yet it can do nothing without the lifting of the terror designation. Trump promised Sudan that if it recognized Israel, he would see to it that Sudan was removed from the Treasury Department list. He also promised that in return for a $335-million payment, the U.S. would render Sudan exempt from current and future suits. One element necessary to do this is Congressional approval. Such a measure has been proposed in the House, but not yet approved. Sudan is refusing to carry through with its commitment unless the U.S. honors its end of the deal.
There remains tremendous opposition within the civilian-military transitional government to normalization. The majority of Sudanese remain deeply sympathetic to the Palestinians and hostile to Israel. However, the military is reliant on the UAE for funding. It too has normalized with Israel and is pressuring the Sudanese general leading the transition to do so. However, the civilian elements in the governing coalition remain skeptical. Even after normalization was announced by the government, others expressed their opposition. The eventual outcome is by no means certain.
Similarly, media reports indicate that Saudi Arabia is exerting maximum pressure on Pakistan to recognize Israel as well. The Saudis seek to expand their anti-Iran alliance outside of the Gulf by enlisting Pakistan, whose perennially penurious government and populace relies heavily on Saudi financial largesse. Pakistan in turn was chagrined when the Saudis did little to support their allies in Kashmir when the Hindu nationalist Indian government annexed the Muslim-majority states. The purported deal would offer both elites something that serves their interest.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of Pakistanis vehemently oppose Israel and support the Palestinians, the Pakistani military-intelligence apparatus is preparing the public for such an eventuality.
As I wrote here after the earlier series of normalization announcements, these deals are exceedingly weak because they are transactional in nature, rather than based on legal principles or moral values. Even Trump’s much-ballyhooed “gimmes” to Netanyahu were not based on any guiding policy or strategy. Trump could care less about Israel and its interests. But he did realize that cozying up to Israel is one of the keys to the evangelical vote. So his entire “act” declaring himself the best friend Israel ever had in the White House is a charade. One that will do enormous damage to U.S. long-term interests in the region.
Even if removing Sudan from the terror list is justified, demanding that the country do something most of its citizens oppose in order to achieve this outcome, guarantees political instability at home. Leaders who recognize Israel will be vilified for it. But Netanyahu and Trump could care less. Because they have no long-term strategic vision. They act for short-term personal political gain.
The list of shattered relations between allies who eventually betrayed each other when tables turned is long: Israel aided in the establishment of both Hamas and Hezbollah to act as checks on the power of Arafat’s Fatah; the U.S. readily supplied weapons to the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan in their effort to dislodge the Russians; Hitler forged the Molotov Pact with Stalin only to turn on his a year or so later and invade Russia; at one time both the Irgun and Yishuv leadership separately entered into negotiations with the Nazis at a time when they believed it could advance their own political interests.
In other words, while Israel and media pundits may herald these normalization agreements, they’re built on sand. On convenient alliances against mutual enemies like Iran. But enemies turn into allies and vice versa at the drop of a hat. Especially in the Middle East.
Israel’s Sordid Secrets Regarding Morocco
Ronen Bergman profiled Israel’s long-time covert relations with Morocco. Again, Israeli intelligence and the Moroccan monarchy used each other in seeking advantage over their respective enemies. In doing so, both Israel and Morocco betrayed their own allies. It’s a deeply cynical game which Israel plays to the hilt.
In one particularly gruesome case over which Bergman glides with little elaboration, the Mossad cultivated Moroccan anti-colonialist leader, Mehdi Ben Barka. It approached him and offered assistance in overthrowing King Hassan. Once he slipped into the spy agency’s net, it informed Hassan that Ben Barka was plotting against him. Moroccan intelligence and the Mossad then collaborated in luring him from Switzerland and to Paris with the ruse of participating in a major film documentary. There an apartment was waiting which the Israelis had rented. In it, Ben Barka was tortured and eventually murdered by Moroccan agents.
After the fact, the Mossad claimed it had no knowledge the intent was to murder Ben Barka. It said it only participated in the kidnapping, but not the murder that followed. But this is undermined by Mossad’s disposal of his body in a forest. Though Bergman claims the body was never found that does not discount the enormity of the crime.
In 2000, Paris Match interviewed one of the victim’s captors who revealed that the body was buried in a forest which the French government eventually deeded to the Moroccan government, over which built an enormous mosque. The shrine’s car park now covers the grave under many feet of concrete. Another account by one of the principal conspirators says the body was flown back to Morocco and dissolved in acid (the same fate as that of Jamal Khashoggi, murdered in similar fashion by a band of Saudi thugs working under the direction of that country’s Crown Prince). Writing earlier in the Times, Bergman claims that the body was buried in the Bois du Boulogne, under what is now the access road to the Louis Vuitton museum. Each of these is particularly grisly and perversely ironic for different reasons.