Morocco becomes huge customer for Israel's defense industry

Israeli weapons sales to Morocco illustration: Tali Bogdanovsky
Israeli weapons sales to Morocco illustration: Tali Bogdanovsky

"Globes" looks at the major Israeli defense systems procured by Morocco, culminating in a $1 billion deal with IAI, which foreign media reports is for Ofek spy satellites.

Yesterday Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) announced an agreement worth $1 billion over five years with an unnamed third party. Foreign media has said that the deal was for satellites first reported last year. The presence of IAI chairman Amir Peretz in Morocco when the deal was announced further fueled these reports.

Morocco is one of the Arab countries which normalized relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords in 2020. Its influence on Israel's defense industry has been most significant. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute SIPRI), between 2019 and 2023, Israel was the world's ninth biggest exporter of defense equipment. SIPRI found that even though Morocco and Israel did not normalize relations until December 2020, Israel was already in third place in terms of Morocco's defense imports providing 11% of its needs.

Morocco's challenges

Since Peretz was appointed IAI chairman, the company has become a very significant defense industry player for Morocco. SIPRI reported six months ago that Morocco wanted to procure from Israel two Ofek 13 spy satellites. These observation satellites are considered one of the world's best and are used by the IDF 9900 intelligence unit, which is responsible for gathering and extracting visual-geographical intelligence.

This deal has been interesting in the context of the business competition between the large Israeli and French defense companies. Morocco has preferred the Ofek 13 satellite to those of Airbus and Thales, its previous suppliers in the field. Several months later, French President Emmanuel Macron decided to keep Israeli companies away from the prestigious Eurosatory defense and aerospace exhibition in Paris.

While France attributed the decision to the war in Gaza, it can be assumed that business-political considerations were also behind the move. The French president was probably influenced by the historic sale of the Arrow 3 long-range air defense system to Germany for $3.5 billion, and Rafael's David's Sling medium range air defense to Finland for €316 million. Such deals put Israeli technologies in the headlines, and unlike the bulk of French systems, they have proven themselves on the battlefield.

This latest deal can be added to the many signed by Israel with Morocco. IAI sold the Barak MX air defense system to Morocco in 2022 for $540 million. The system includes three interceptors: the Barak MRAD with a range up to 35 kilometers; the Barak LRAD with a range of up to 70 kilometers; and the Barak ER with a range of up to 150 kilometers. It was also reported last year by the "Intelligence Online" website that IAI completed delivery of three Heron 1 UAVs to Morocco. This $48 million deal was unusual because it was signed in 2014, through a joint venture between IAI and Airbus.

Another significant player in Morocco's defense procurement field is BlueBird Aero Systems, in which since 2020 IAI has held a 50% stake. In recent years, BlueBird has supplied various products to Morocco such as the SpyX loitering munition, as well as WonderB and ThunderB - unmanned systems that take off and land vertically. BlueBird CEO Ronen Nadir told the "ZM" website in April that the company has even set up a production plant in Morocco, which is expected to start operating soon.

In regional geopolitical terms of geopolitics, Morocco's extensive defense procurement from Israel has been challenging for Rabat in recent months more than ever. However, Morocco has significant security challenges that require addressing, focusing on the Western Sahara and eastern neighbor Algeria, which is an old and close friend of Palestinian terrorist organizations.

In July 2023, during the IDF's operation in the Jenin refugee camp, senior Hamas official Khaled Mashal spoke at the Great Mosque in Algiers, and congratulated Algeria on its "heroic stance in the Palestinian struggle" in Jenin. At the same time, Algerian President Abd al-Maj?d Tabb?n announced provision of $30 million dollars for reconstruction of the damage in Jenin.

Algeria is also a major supporter of the separatist Polisario Front, which strives for Western Sahara independence from Morocco. Israel, on the other hand, last year officially announced its recognition of Moroccan sovereignty in the Western Sahara.

Morocco's critics on the subject of the Western Sahara have recently been working to highlight the use of Israeli missiles during the war in Gaza. The French left-wing newspaper "L'Humanite" reported four months ago that the Moroccan army operates from a base at the Smara airport in the Western Sahara using Elbit Systems Hermes 900 and Hermes 450 UAVs. The same drones are also used by Israel today in Gaza.

Last year the "Intercept" website published a report from Federico Borsari, a researcher who specializes in unmanned technologies at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). According to Borsar, Morocco possesses about 150 aircraft capable of vertical take-off (Blue Bird's WonderB, ThunderB and SpyX), three IAI Heron UAVs and IAI's Harop loitering munitions systems, and four Elbit Systems Hermes UAVs.

Not only weapons

Israel-Morocco security cooperation is not limited to weaponry. As revealed by "Globes", the IDF's new landing craft, the INS Komemiyut, arrived in Israel about a month ago from the US - after a stopover in Morocco for refueling on the ship's long journey from Pascagoula in Mississippi to the naval base in Haifa. In Tangier the crew stocked up with fuel and food in order to sail on to Israel.

Another area in which the two countries and defense companies are involved is the world of research. IAI signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the International University of Rabat (UIR) last year to establish a center of excellence in the fields of aeronautics, AI and innovation.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on July 10, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Israeli weapons sales to Morocco illustration: Tali Bogdanovsky
Israeli weapons sales to Morocco illustration: Tali Bogdanovsky
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