Israeli, Moroccan defense ministers meet in landmark visit

Benny Gantz

FILE – Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks while meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on June 3, 2021, at the State Department in Washington. Israel’s defense minister headed to Morocco on Tuesday, Nov. 23, for an official visit to cement security ties just ahead of the first anniversary of their agreement to establish full diplomatic relations. Gantz will be making the first official visit by an Israeli defense minister to one of the four Arab states that agreed to normalize ties with Israel last year. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Israel’s defense minister met with his Moroccan counterpart on Wednesday in Rabat as part of a landmark visit to formalize security cooperation between the two countries.

Israel and Morocco established formal relations last year as part of the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords.

Benny Gantz’s trip is the first official visit by an Israeli defense minister to one of the Arab states that established open relations, a trip that aims to further strengthen defense ties between the countries.

Gantz met with Abdellatif Loudiyi, the Moroccan defense minister, and the two are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding that lays the foundation for security cooperation and future arms sales.

Ahead of his meeting with Loudiyi, Gantz paid his respects at the tomb of Mohamed V, the grandfather of the reigning monarch.

Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan signed agreements to normalize relations with Israel in 2020 as part of the diplomatic pacts brokered by the Trump administration known as the Abraham Accords.

Israel and Morocco enjoyed low-level diplomatic relations in the 1990s, but Morocco severed them after a Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000. Despite that, the two states have maintained informal relations. Nearly half a million Israelis claim Moroccan heritage — more than 200,000 immigrated to Israel after the founding of the state in 1948 — and thousands visit the country each year.

Morocco is still home to a small Jewish community, and Rabat has one remaining synagogue.

In exchange for Morocco normalizing relations with Israel, the Trump administration promised in December 2020 to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a disputed north African territory. The announcement upset decades of U.S. policy and international consensus that Western Sahara’s status should be settled by a U.N. referendum.

Since then, the Biden administration has cautiously walked back that recognition.

The Abraham Accords broke a longstanding consensus among Arab states that normalization with Israel only take place as part of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because of that, the Palestinians view the agreements as a betrayal that eroded their leverage with Israel.

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