The Abraham Accords and New Tensions Between the Maghreb Rivals

It is possible to rely on the offensive realist perception in analyzing the dimensions of the newly formed alliance between Morocco and Israel. Although this alliance has sparked a great deal of controversy in Morocco, Algeria, and the rest of the Arab world, given the warm celebration that was received by the Israelis, this step was not easy for Moroccan decision-makers due to several considerations, the most important of which is the sensitivity of normalization with Israel for Arab and Islamic countries, and then the influence of the Palestinian issue, which is a central issue for Moroccan, Maghreb, and Arab-Islamic public opinion.

Offensive realism stems from the hypothesis of the anarchy of the international system, and since the states as regional and global powers are the main actors in this anarchic system; this means that this international system is not subject to a supreme or high authority that protects states from each other. For this reason, states seek to maximize their offensive capabilities and strength to achieve hegemony and supremacy. In this case, Morocco and Israel seek to use this alliance to implement an offensive strategy against their opponents to ensure their superiority in their spheres. Israel, for its part, has adopted an offensive policy based on an alliance with Arab countries to form a military-security alliance or Middle Eastern NATO to deter and contain Iran, which relies on expansion through its proxies. Therefore, its alliance with Arab countries will provide Tel Aviv with important strategic goals, including strengthening the acceptance of the Hebrew state among the Arabs and ending the conflict in its favor, and will also ensure enjoying regional actors and powers as allies capable of supporting Tel Aviv in any offensive operations against Iran -the common antagonist-[1].

Meanwhile, Morocco seeks not only to maintain a balance of power with its foe Algeria, but also to achieve security and military superiority and hegemony over the Maghreb region by maximizing military capabilities and acquiring the most sophisticated weapons and advanced military technologies through its alliance with Israel[2]. The correlation between the ratification of the Abraham Accords in 2020 and huge increases in Morocco’s military spending is evident: It more than doubled in four years, from $6.24 billion in a 2016 finance bill to $12.23 billion in a 2020 finance bill. Then, in 2021, it steadied with a modest decline of 330,000 dollars. Then, in the Finance Bill of 2022, Parliament approved the addition of $12.74 billion for the “acquisition and repair of equipment for the Royal Armed Forces.”[3]

The offensive realist assumption indicates that states possess offensive capabilities and always aspire to maximize their power fully applies to the bilateral alliance. Increasing the offensive capabilities of Israel and Morocco mainly serves their strategic ambitions in regional hegemony and attacking their opponents to end long-term regional conflicts that threaten national security and the survival of the two allies, whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for Israel or the Western Sahara conflict with Algeria for Morocco.

As argued by Mearsheimer it is difficult for countries to know the true intentions of hostile states, and Iran and Algeria are no exception to this, as they continue to threaten their opponents and adopt hostile policies and strategies that pose a real threat to national security and the existence of Morocco and Israel. Due to the lack of diplomatic communication or channels of dialogue between the conflicting parties, their opponents’ actions are deemed unpredictable. This is seen as one of the most decisive motives and reasons why they decided to form this alliance to strengthen their offensive and deterrent strategies. Countries always try to get stronger to ensure their survival and protect their national security by using all the tools they have to attack and fend off any potential aggressors.

Because states are rational actors according to the offensive realistic perception, which means that they search for opportunities to pursue their own interests and can formulate strategies to increase their power, Moroccan and Israeli leaders take a realistic and practical approach based on strengthening their fronts by forming security alliances with advanced offensive capabilities that can assert their hard power in their respective regions.

Offensive realism differs from its opposite, defensive realism, in the level of power that states seek to achieve. While defensive realists argue that it is unwise for states to seek to maximize their power, given that the anarchic system will punish powers that seek to maximize their strength, particularly those countries that recklessly seek to achieve hegemony, the other great powers will seek to form alliances to counter and contain this growing power, making the latter less secure and possibly destroying it. As happened with Napoleonic France (1792–1815), Imperial Germany (1900–1918), and Nazi Germany (1933–1945)[4]. On the other hand, the offensive realists take a different position, as they consider that states are constantly seeking to increase the level of their power whenever they are able to do so, and that they must, if circumstances allow them, seek hegemony. Aggression or hegemony are not good things in and of themselves, but possessing the potential to be very powerful is the best way to ensure their survival. This is why states form alliances and invest in human, economic, and military capabilities that can serve their ambitions to dominate and achieve superiority over their rivals.

From this realistic offensive standpoint, Morocco and Israel, through their alliance, do not seek to ensure a balance of power with their opponents, but rather to achieve hegemony over the region by advancing and developing their military capabilities, focusing on military technological superiority, and building an army with strong offensive capabilities capable of imposing control over their sphere of influence.

Rabat’s decision-makers believe that the alliance with Israel will offer them great gains on several levels, the most important of which is that the Abraham Agreement, signed tripartitely with the United States as a Mediator, stipulates Washington’s recognition of Rabat’s full sovereignty over the Western Sahara regions, which is a crushing diplomatic victory over Algeria and its existing foreign policy, which has been based since the seventies on preventing its neighbor from winning the conflict over the Sahara region[5]. In addition to this, this alliance with Tel Aviv provided Rabat with influence in the corridors of the White House and decision-making in Washington, which became evident in the important military support that America provides to Morocco and in support of its plans and security strategies in the aspiration of geopolitical supremacy in North Africa.

Economically, Washington and Tel Aviv pledge economic support to Rabat worth three billion dollars in the form of investments in vital economic sectors, establishing airlines between Israel and Morocco to boost Moroccan tourism, where tens of thousands of Israelis of Moroccan origin are expected to visit the North African country yearly, this bilateral cooperation led to an unprecedented development in sectors of mutual interest such as tourism, health, agriculture, water, industry, education, and technology, while seeking to increase trade exchange to about $500 million[6].

The most important thing in the Abraham accord is related to the security and military aspect, Since Morocco aspires to achieve regional supremacy, it was keen to obtain strong military support from Tel Aviv and Washington, which includes the delivery of advanced weapons and the signing of advanced military agreements, including the intensive training of the Moroccan army and its enabling of military technology such as the manufacture and development of drones and the modernization of its air force[7]. Morocco has adopted a military strategy called the Five-Year Plan (2017–2022) with an estimated budget of about $20 billion, aiming to make the Moroccan army the most powerful in the Maghreb region by significantly increasing the defense and armament budget and purchasing highly advanced weapons that its rival neighbor, Algeria, does not have[8].

This was achieved by Morocco acquiring many drones and modern defense systems from the United States and Israel, and also signing a military agreement to manufacture Israeli kamikaze drones in Morocco[9]. Currently, the Moroccan army has American F-16 Block 50/52 fighter jets, the advanced F-16 Viper model, Apache combat helicopters, M1A1Abrams battle tanks, and advanced anti-tank weapons, warplanes, and electronic intelligence weapons. The Israeli-advanced BARACK 8 air defense system[10] is among the advanced weapons that the Moroccan army is planning to acquire, according to many reports and media news.g

The agreement to create the nucleus of a Moroccan military industry in cooperation with Israel raised security concerns in Algeria. Algeria accuses Morocco of having an aggressive offensive policy by forming an alliance with Israel and bringing it into the region. Algiers accuses Rabat of spying on Algerian leaders and supporting attacks by separatist groups, which the Moroccan government denies. As a result, Algeria broke off diplomatic ties with Morocco and put economic and political sanctions in place against it[11].

The Moroccan-Israeli alliance agreement has led to important geostrategic dynamics in the Maghreb region, as the American recognition of the Moroccan Western Sahara in accordance with the agreement signed between Rabat, Tel Aviv, and Washington on December 20, 2020, brought the conflict back to the fore, as the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria, responded by withdrawing from the UN cease-fire and declaring war against Morocco[12]. The latter succeeded in imposing control over the Sahara territories and the Guerguarat crossing with Mauritania, as well as transforming the area behind the security barrier into a forbidden area and a red line in which its air forces periodically target any military move by the Polisario and Algeria. Morocco has taken advantage of the support of the U.S. and Israel, as well as the backing of the Gulf States, when it comes to the Sahara issue. It has used offensive diplomacy against its opponents and even some of its traditional partners. This is similar to the diplomatic crisis with Germany and Spain, which was caused by their opposition to the U.S. decision and geostrategic changes that were meant to end the balance of power in Morocco’s favor.

John Mearsheimer bases his offensive realist theory on the concept of hegemony. As he emphasized, “a hegemon is a state that is so powerful that it dominates all the other states in the system.”  He also made a distinction between global hegemons, which control the whole world, and regional hegemons, which dominate distinct geographical areas[13].

By implementing Maersheimer’s concept of hegemony, it can be said that both Algeria and Morocco are seeking to impose their regional centrality with the aim of becoming a hegemon in the region, and this can only be achieved by harvesting many gains, most notably the recognition of international powers that any regional arrangements in the Maghreb must pass through taking the interests of the “regional power or hegemon” into account. Thus, the major countries are competing to placate this regional power to utilize its position in its wider international conflict, urging it to strengthen it on the one hand and to ensure its stability and continuity on the other hand.

The balance of power constitutes the basis of competition between Morocco and Algeria, but the presence of leaders who have a tendency towards maximizing power, based on their personalities (Hassan II and Boumedian) or on their political ideologies and agendas in each of the two countries, enhances the permanence and continuity of the conflict[14].

John Mearsheimer argues that a state’s behavior is based on fear and mistrust of other competing states. This is because states always expect danger as they don’t trust the intentions of their rivals. For this reason, the state is always seeking to maximize its power and capabilities in case they are attacked or face aggression. Also, the lack of an international central authority to which the state can turn in the event of threat or aggression makes the state more cautious about the intentions of other powers. As a result, states act for self-help or form temporary or permanent alliances based on common interests to attack and destroy their enemies[15].

In the case of Morocco and Algeria, since the signing of the Moroccan-Israeli alliance with US support, the relations between the two regional powers in North Africa have been greatly strained, and this has had a serious impact on the Maghreb regional dynamics, as Algeria became fearful and suspicious of the Moroccan-Israeli rapprochement step, considering this controversial alliance as an offensive strategy that threatens Algerian national security and seeks to impose a fait-accompli in the region and achieve geostrategic goals at the expense of Algeria’s interests and security[16].

As a sign of this tension, the first half of 2021 witnessed numerous military exercises on both sides of the border. While Algeria’s Chief of Staff and senior official in the Algerian People’s National Army, Saïd Chengriha, led a large-scale training operation for the Algerian army with live ammunition in the third military region in Tindouf near the Moroccan border in mid-January, Morocco, in turn, hosted the African Lion military exercises in June 2021, which are led by AFRICOM forces and participated by NATO North Atlantic and other allied forces. These exercises increased Algeria’s apprehension, especially since a number of air maneuvers took place at the Moroccan Jarir Lebouhi base, which is located only kilometers from the Western Sahara and also not far from the Algerian border[17].

However, tensions will deepen following the meeting of the Non-Aligned Countries in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2021, when Morocco’s permanent ambassador to the United Nations, Omar Hilal, calls for support for the independence of the Kabylie region in Algeria. Then some international newspapers reported that Moroccan intelligence used the Israeli Pegasus spy program, as Algeria officially accused Morocco of spying on Algerian officials and diplomats. In addition to accusing Morocco of supporting the MAK movement in Kabylia to secede, claiming that these hostilities aim to destabilize Algeria’s national security, which led to the announcement of the decision to officially sever diplomatic relations by Algeria and recall its ambassador in Rabat in August 2021. 
Moreover, the escalation continued when Algeria announced a new escalation by banning Moroccan civil and military aviation from passing through Algerian airspace and justified its decision by accusing Morocco of carrying out hostile acts and normalization with the Zionist entity—in reference to the Israeli state. In addition, Algerians officially announced the severance of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which transferred Algerian gas through Morocco to Spain.

These repercussions led to the creation of a new polarization situation and turned the region into a cold regional war similar to the Cold War between the western and eastern camps, where the two sides sought to attract major allied powers to support each side’s claim to hegemony over the region. In this way, Mearsheimer stressed that the state’s focus on self-help does not prevent it from forming alliances, and these alliances are based on common interests. 
Morocco concluded a military agreement with Israel, which is considered the first of its kind between the Hebrew state and an Arab Islamic country. The agreement allows Morocco to easily acquire high-tech Israeli security equipment and achieve advanced military security cooperation, which outlines security cooperation between the two countries in its various forms in the face of “threats and challenges in the region.” declared the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz[18].
A year earlier, Morocco signed a military agreement with the United States that would last from 2020 to 2030. This agreement was meant to modernize Morocco’s military and defense industries and give the Moroccan royal military forces more support and training from the US military[19].

On the other hand, Algeria has strengthened its rapprochement with Russia and even with Iran, albeit secretly, as a step in response to Moroccan foreign policy. Algeria seeks to confront the offensive policies of Morocco and Israel by rapprochement with Iran, the staunch enemy of Tel Aviv, where it maintains good diplomatic relations despite the lack of strong security and military cooperation. Nevertheless, Algeria is counting on Russia, its traditional strategic ally, in developing its military arsenal and obtaining the latest weapons such as submarines, ballistic missiles, and air defense systems[20]. In addition, it supports the penetration and increase of Russian influence in the Sahel region, which serves its interests and goals in becoming a regional power.

If it is true that Algerian-Russian cooperation may amount to the establishment of a Russian military base in Oran, as reported by some newspapers, this means a disruption of the military balances in the region in favor of Russia at the expense of Europe, which results in a change in the rules of engagement.

However, the Russian and Israeli moves in the Maghreb may lead to a further explosion of relations between the two neighboring countries and lead to the creation of international polarization around the region, in connection with the tensions that define Russian relations with NATO.

To besiege Morocco regionally and impede its strategy of achieving regional hegemony, Algeria recently created an alliance with the Qais Said regime in Tunisia, providing it with political and economic support to ensure its continuity. On the other hand, Tunisia sided with Algeria and the Polisario in the Sahara issue. Tunisia decided not to vote in favor of Resolution S/843/2021, which was issued by the United Nations Security Council in 2021. Tunisia also invited the leader of the Polisario Front to attend the Japan-Africa Summit (TICAD) in August 2022. This caused a diplomatic crisis between Rabat and Tunisia[21]

These developments have allowed Morocco to benefit from the support of the United States, Israel, and the Gulf States to strengthen its regional position. As Algeria and Morocco seek to impose their regional agenda to evolve into a dominant power in the Maghreb, they seek to gain the recognition of international powers for any regional arrangements in the Maghreb, taking into account the interests of the “regional power.” Hence, from the Algerian view, the Moroccan-Israeli rapprochement seriously has impacted the Maghreb’s regional dynamics, as Algeria has become fearful and suspicious of this offensive approach. In response, Algiers seeks to confront Rabat’s geostrategic successes through rapprochement with Russia and Iran. Algeria relies on Russia, its traditional strategic ally, to expand its military arsenal and carry out annual military exercises. It also facilitates the Russian penetration of the Sahel region to counter the French historical influence.

Walid Blila is a graduate of the History Studies bachelor program and the Diplomacy and International Relations master program, interested in international politics, history, and cultural issues.


[1] Chtatou, M. (2022). The Middle East NATO: From Fiction to Fact. The Washington Institute. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/middle-east-nato-fiction-fact

[2] EGOZI, A. (2022). Morocco buys advanced weapon systems from Israel, including UAVs for intelligence gathering. DEFENSE PROCUREMENT INTERNATIONAL. www.defenceprocurementinternational.com/news/air/morocco-buys-advanced-weapon-systems-from-israel.

[3] Kasraoui, S. (2022). Morocco Sets Up Budget of Nearly $11 Billion for Defense in 2023. MOROCCO WORLD NEWS. https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2022/10/351973/morocco-sets-up-budget-of-nearly-11-billion-for-defense-in-2023

[4] Waltz, Kenneth N. Theory of International Politics, 1979. https://doi.org/10.1604/9780075548522.

[5] Abouzzohour, Yasmina, and Order from Chaos. “Morocco’s Partial Normalization with Israel Comes with Risks and Gains.” Brookings, December 14, 2020. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/12/14/moroccos-partial-normalization-with-israel-comes-with-risks-and-gains/.

[6] The Economic Ties Between Israel and Morocco Are Growing Stronger. www.gov.il/en/departments/news/morocco240322. Accessed 23 Oct. 2022.

[7] Le point Afrique,  (2022, July 21). Maroc-Israël : au-delà de l’alliance militaire, des projets industriels. Le Point. Retrieved December 4, 2022, from https://www.lepoint.fr/afrique/maroc-israel-au-dela-de-l-alliance-militaire-des-projets-industriels-21-07-2022-2483929_3826.php

[8] “Morocco-Algeria Conflict: Spain’s Role and Medium-term Scenarios Deadline. Global Affairs. University of Navarra – Global Affairs and Strategic Studies.” Global Affairs and Strategic Studies, 4 May 2022, en.unav.edu/web/global-affairs/conflicto-marruecos-argelia-papel-de-espana-y-escenarios-a-medio-plazo.

[9] Al Chamekh, A. S. (2022, August 10). America is betting on strengthening the Moroccan-Israeli alliance to confront Iran and Russia. Hespress.

[10] “Morocco: The Maghreb’s New Military Powerhouse | Atalayar – Las Claves Del Mundo En Tus Manos.” Atalayar, 1 July 2022, atalayar.com/en/content/morocco-maghrebs-new-military-powerhouse.

[11] Ahmed, Hamid Ould. “Algeria Cuts Diplomatic Relations With Morocco | Reuters.” Reuters, 25 Aug. 2021, www.reuters.com/world/algeria-says-cutting-diplomatic-ties-with-morocco-2021-08-24.

[12] What Morocco’s Agreement With Israel Means for the Wider Middle East | Council on Foreign Relations. “What Morocco’s Agreement With Israel Means for the Wider Middle East | Council on Foreign Relations,” November 17, 2021. https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/what-moroccos-agreement-israel-means-wider-middle-east.

[13] Mearsheimer, John J, 2001, p 40

[14] Walid Abdel Hay, (2014), Moroccan-Algerian Relations: The Geostrategic Knot, Arab Siyassat Journal, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.

[15] Mearsheimer, John J, 2001, p 32

[16] Chaabane, H. (2021, October 27). Morocco-Israel Alliance Sparks Rapprochement Between Algeria and Iran. The New Khalij.

[17] “African Lion 21 Exercise Begins With 7,800 Troops in Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal.” United States Africa Command, www.africom.mil/pressrelease/33798/african-lion-21-exercise-begins-with-7800-troops-in-morocco-tunisia-senegal. Accessed 28 Oct. 2022.

[18] Kubovich, Yaniv. “In Landmark Morocco Visit, Gantz Inks Defense Pact That Paves the Way for Arms Sales – Israel News – Haaretz.com.” Haaretz.com, www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2021-11-24/ty-article/in-landmark-morocco-visit-gantz-inks-defense-pact-that-paves-the-way-for-arms-sales/0000017f-db22-d3a5-af7f-fbae3ca80000. Accessed 28 Oct. 2022.

[19] “U.S., Morocco Chart Defense Cooperation Through 2030 > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department News.” U.S. Department of Defense, www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/2369742/us-morocco-chart-defense-cooperation-through-2030. Accessed 28 Oct. 2022.

[20] “An Overview of Russia-Algeria Military Cooperation – New Defence Order. Strategy.” New Defence Order. Strategy, 21 Apr. 2020, dfnc.ru/en/vtc/an-overview-of-russia-algeria-military-cooperation.

[21] “Morocco and Tunisia Feud After Self-proclaimed Western Sahara Leader Visits Tunis.” Le Monde.fr, 28 Oct. 2022, www.lemonde.fr/en/le-monde-africa/article/2022/09/01/the-diplomatic-crisis-between-tunis-and-rabat-over-western-sahara-is-showing-no-signs-of-abating_5995479_124.html.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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