According to officials in Riyadh, the Saudi position on the prospect of normalization with Israel has changed in recent weeks. This change is linked to the close relations between Rabat and Riyadh.

By  Daniel Siryoti Published on  12-11-2020

Thursday’s announcement that Israel and Morocco will normalize diplomatic relations reflects, to a large degree, the tapestry of interests in the Middle East and highlights the United States’ geopolitical influence and clout in terms of shaping the new regional reality of peace between Israel and moderate Sunni countries. The newest peace deal is an immense diplomatic achievement for Moroccan King Mohammed VI and his country, no less and even more so than for Israel, and it’s possible it won’t be the last such agreement to be finalized before US President Donald Trump leaves the White House. Trump’s senior adviser, Jared Kushner, said after the peace announcement with Morocco that “normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia is inevitable.”

Diplomats in the United Arab Emirates and Morocco confirmed to Israel Hayom that officials in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were instrumental in advancing the peace deal between Israel and Morocco. According to officials in Riyadh, the Saudi position on the prospect of normalization with Israel has changed in recent weeks. This change is linked to the close relations between Rabat and Riyadh, hence the possibility of the Saudi monarchy making a similar move with Israel in the near future. The English-language newspaper Arab News, which is owned by the Saudi royal family, even ran a complimentary front-page story about the Israeli-Moroccan peace deal, in what could be seen as laying the groundwork for something similar with Saudi Arabia. It can be argued that Jerusalem and Rabat should have established diplomatic relations even before the introduction of the Abraham Accords with the UAE and Bahrain and the normalization deal with Sudan. Israel and Morocco have had an infrastructure for open diplomatic relations in place since the mid-1990s, but the eruption of the Second Intifada in 2000 followed by Operation Defensive Shield to repel the waves of suicide bombings emanating from the West Bank, upended the momentum as public opinion in Morocco and other Arab countries forced Rabat to eschew the fledgling diplomatic relationship with Israel.

Opening of embassies – in the first few months of 2021

With that, over the ensuing decades, the two countries never severed their relationship and even bolstered them under the Trump administration. The entire diplomatic journey is expected to culminate with the opening of embassies in Rabat and Tel Aviv in the first months of 2021. Morocco and the sovereignty it wishes to apply in Western Sahara are reminiscent of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And herein lay Morocco’s tremendous diplomatic victory, because the international community doesn’t recognize its sovereignty in Western Sahara – similar to the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria. Rabat, however, was swayed by more than Washington’s important and dramatic recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty rights in Western Sahara. Morocco, whose economy is largely based on tourism, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, but it will now receive generous economic aid from the US. King Mohammed VI was prudent enough to realize that president-elect Joe Biden’s administration wouldn’t offer anything close and that now was the time to take the leap and join the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan before the door slams shut.

The peace deals are received with mixed emotions

Full diplomatic relations with Israel should provide Morocco a broad range of Israeli know-how in the fields of technology, agriculture and drinking water – where Morocco is desperate for help – and this is even before mentioning the security and intelligence cooperation the countries’ security services have secretly maintained for decades already (ever since the immigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel in the 1950s and the sinking of the Egoz immigrant ship). This cooperation is now expected to expand and flourish in light of the mutual security challenges both countries face. Just as the Abraham Accords and the normalization treaty with Sudan were received with mixed feelings by their respective Arab publics, in Morocco, too, there are many who support peace with Israel but also more than a few who oppose it.

André Azoulay, a senior adviser to the Moroccan king, prominent member of the country’s Jewish community, and a key architect of the peace agreement told Israel Hayom: “This is a dramatic and important initiative, the ramifications of which will lead other Arab and Muslim countries to normalize relations with Israel.”