After the Accords: How Biden Can Bolster Israeli-Moroccan Ties
This Passover season, for the first time ever, tens of thousands of Israeli Jews will flock to Morocco to celebrate. While Israeli Jews of Moroccan descent have historically made this annual pilgrimage for the festivities, this year marks the first since the signing of the Abraham Accords, which normalized ties between Morocco and Israel.
Indeed, Passover this year will be a microcosm of the budding Israel-Morocco relationship, which has been quietly shattering historical barriers and raising the bar for Israeli-Arab cooperation. In November 2021, Israel and Morocco signed the first-ever defense memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Israel and an Arab state, setting the stage for formalized intelligence sharing, security coordination, and arms sales to Israel’s Arab allies. This groundbreaking deal has since paved the way for a similar defense MOU between Israel and Bahrain, while also deepening further the bilateral Israel-Morocco defense partnership—including a $500 million air defense deal and the first-ever joint action plan between Israel and an Arab country.
As America’s oldest treaty ally and the home of a millennia-old, prosperous Jewish community, Morocco seems like an obvious partner for Israel. However, this strategic marriage would not have been possible without U.S. brokerage, namely the Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
But in this moment of unprecedented U.S. need for its Middle Eastern security partners to pick up the slack while Washington prioritizes strategic competition with China and Russia, the wedding broker is missing from the wedding. Although the Biden administration had gradually come around to taking ownership of the Abraham Accords after initially eschewing the nomenclature, it has so far demurred to take the necessary, proactive leadership to fully operationalize the accords, even continuing to equivocate on previous U.S. diplomatic commitments to Morocco.
In light of the recent establishment of a Moroccan-Israeli joint military commission and the subsequent discussion of a regional security architecture at the Negev Summit, there is a clear emerging will to leverage the Abraham Accords into a security framework—a so far unmaterialized opportunity that the Biden administration continues to shy away from. What’s more, since the United States signed a ten-year security cooperation agreement with Morocco in October 2020, there has been no official U.S. follow-up.
The United States should help promote deeper security and strategic cooperation between Israel and Morocco. While regional U.S.-led maritime drills like Cutlass Express have nominally included Israel and Morocco together, the United States must make a concerted effort to promote direct Israel-Morocco naval and air defense cooperation via multilateral exercises. Moreover, the U.S. intelligence community should triangulate its separate bilateral intelligence-sharing relationships with Israel and Morocco to tackle areas of mutual security interest, a move that would facilitate broader multilateral intelligence coordination within the Abraham Accords framework.
The United States must also take an involved role in promoting Israeli Moroccan counterterrorism cooperation to allow Morocco to act as an effective African stability provider and bulwark against terror in Europe. Pairing Israel’s deep counterterrorism expertise with Morocco’s strategic geography at the crossroads of Southern Europe and the Sahel would allow the United States to bolster the Abraham Accords while also curtailing the growing tide of regional terrorism, including by Iranian proxies.
The Biden administration must strategically invest in Morocco’s military modernization to secure it against increasing aggression by Russian-backed Algeria and to equip it to effectively partner with Israel and other U.S. allies. This includes following through on the stalled sale of four MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones and precision-guided munitions to Morocco.
As record numbers of Israeli Jews flock to Morocco this year, it’s important to remember that the stakes go beyond rich cultural syncretism. The Abraham Accords show the potential for new forms of Israel-Arab defense cooperation, but the full realization of this sea change will require continued U.S. strategic focus to crystallize relationships between the new partners. Supporting the ancient bond between Morocco and the Jewish people represents a powerful opportunity for the United States to deepen Arab-Israeli security coordination and cultural ties at a time when the United States needs its allies to work together more than ever.
Ambassador J. Peter Pham, a Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council, served as the first-ever U.S. Special Envoy for the Sahel from 2020-2021.
Samuel B. Millner is a policy analyst at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).
Originally published in National Interest.