Rabat – With Morocco’s expulsion of Iranian Charge d’Affairs and withdrawal of her own Ambassador from Tehran, Morocco signaled to the region and to the world that any interference in its national sovereignty and attacks on territorial integrity will be met with a swift and decisive response.
However, that does not resolve the issue that led to this development: Iran’s use of its embassy in Algiers for delivery of sophisticated weapons through Hezbullah to Polisario operatives in Western Sahara. Algeria, Iran, and Hezbullah all denied these allegations.
However, Polisario admitting that it was interested in strengthening its ties to Iran and cultivating ties with Hezbullah, failed to explain the illegal maneuvers in violation of the ceasefire agreement it was recently caught conducting the buffer zone.
Iran Weakens in the Middle East
On the one hand, Iran has been weakened in the past week on several fronts: JCPOA withdrawal has caused the rial to plummet, further undermining its economy. Second, the United States is reimposing sanctions, which should further squeeze Tehran. Israel has severely damaged, if not mostly destroyed, its military supplies in Syria. And popular dissatisfaction has grown internally. However, European countries continue to legitimize Iran’s actions by looking to strengthen and protect their business deals with the Islamic Republic. Furthermore, it is not clear whether Iran has been honest about its military capabilities in Syria.
There are those who suspect that the surface bases were merely built to protect underground facilities where much more sophisticated weaponry is stored. There is no indication that Tehran is backing off its bellicose plans to continue on the path to global hegemony and destabilization. Hizbullah and other proxies remain active. If anything, there is a high likelihood that for a period of time, Iran’s focus will shift to Africa. President Trump’s recent comments accuse Iran of perpetrating and supporting terrorism all over the Middle East and North Africa; however, the White House also left room for renegotiating the JCPOA. That gives the Islamic Republic some breathing room to regroup.
South Africa and Other Client States Support Hezbullah
Already, some of Iran’s allies in Africa are pushing back at Morocco in response to this decision. South Africa, a close and growing ally of Iran, dropped its support for Morocco’s 2026 FIFA bid. However, there has been little discussion of South Africa’s connections with Hezbullah. Only a few months ago, Africa’s Mail & Guardian revelead South African link in the US-Hezbullah drug exporting case, part of the ongoing probe in response to the bombshell about the Obama administration’s cover up of Hezbullah and drug cartel narcotrafficking into the US in light of the JCPOA deal.
South Africa, as it turns out, was a central location used by a businessman who was arrested on charges of collaborating with Hezbullah in the narcotrafficking. While the Trump administration has dedicated a task force to fighting Hezbullah’s presence in Latin America, so far the organization has continued to grow its presence in the Middle East and Africa. Much more needs to be done by the United States and her allies to combat this threat.
Iran, threatened by increased scrutiny in the Middle East, has turned to the continent where it has a long history of interference and growing alliances, thanks to its investments into infrastructure, ideological outreach, arms trade, and purchase of uranium. The West has not been watching the growing tensions inside the African Union over the support of some countries for Iran; likewise, South Africa’s and Algeria’s role in supporting Iranian interventionism and attempts to destabilize pro-Western countries in West Africa, and Morocco up until this point have received little media attention. This issue likewise has not been a priority with Congress or the administration.
Iran Will Shirt to Africa Due to Less Western Scrutiny
Iran, however, is not deterred by Morocco’s gesture, though the break in relationship has done a lot to bring Iran’s dangerous presence in North Africa to the world’s attention, and to send a strong signal from Morocco’s about its priorities in defending its borders and national sovereignty. If anything, Iran will continue to supply Polisario operatives through Algeria and other means; in fact, whereas previously it has not brazenly used intelligence operatives disguised as diplomats to conduct illegal activity, there may be many more of such individuals in Iranian embassies in Africa, and others may be on their way.
Angered by Western response to its aggression in the Middle East, Iran may very well increase its bellicose activity in Africa as well, in an attempt to undermine Morocco’s alliance with the United States, France, and other Western countries.
At the same time, it may look to recruit more proxies for its forces in the Tindouf camps in Algeria, and among Western Saharawis, allegedly under Polisario’s jurisdiction. The goal would be to have terrorist forces, not unlike the main Hezbullah body or the Houthis in Yemen, available at a moment’s notice to strike Western or pro-Western targets all over the continent. While the Western attention has focused almost exclusively on Sunni-backed terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and Boko Haram, Iran has likewise been arming Shi’a militias in the Sahel.
Likely, it will capitalize on Polisario’s ongoing supply of small arms to Mauritania and other countries to promote its own business, gain control of all such arms trafficking, and become a main supplier of the destabilizing forces in the continent. It will likewise use Hezbullah to conduct and cover up other illicit activities, including illicit direct arms trade and smuggling with other countries, various forms of contraband, including missiles going through Somalia and Eritrea to Yemen’s Houthis, as well as shifting its clandestine ballistic missile and nuclear research to various underground facilities in Africa, where they are unlikely to grow attention.
Iran Will Inrease Pressure on Morocco to Gain Access to Strategic Waterways, Through a Combination of Diplomatic Initiatives and Support for Terrorist Proxy Groups
In addition to growing Hezbullah presence, Iran can be expected to shift at least a small portion of its Al Quds forces – the intelligence arms of the IRGC – to African countries to engage in espionage, propaganda, and various subversive activities meant to instigate rebellions, recruit followers, and sow discord.
Al Quds has already been caught spying on Israeli and German targets in Germany; going after pro-Western targets in less stable African countries is just a tip of the iceberg for the possibilities.
Aggressive “spy games” are to be expected in the near future; to counter Morocco’s increasing vigilance and potentially strong future response to Hezbullah’s armament of Polisario, Iran may shift resources towards outright terrorism in the region, as well as aggressive discreditation attempts against Moroccan officials through its various proxy media outlets.
Nevertheless, Iran has to maintain careful balance, so as not to instigate additional tensions related to Qatar, which has a positive relationship with Morocco, and has issued a general statement in support of Morocco’s right to the defense of its interests. Iran’s presence in the region lies in delicate balance. Its strategy is to build additional navy and other military bases in Africa, securing access to strategic waterways. Morocco stands in the way.
The path to disrupting Morocco’s strong presence and stabilization of the entire North Africa is to create an alliance of anti-Western countries which can assist in creating tense, unstable atmosphere with a potential for an outbreak of hostilities, which will allow Iran to capitalize on weakened vigilance and use terrorist proxies to spread mayhem.
It has perfected the model of land corridors in Syria, and has already geared to control the Strait of Hormuz in the North, and Yemen’s Bab al-Mandeb in the South through similar strategies of bringing in forces allegedly to fight Sunni terrorists or by assisting Shi’a proxies in their separatist ambitions.
The goal, however, is less in the control of the physical territory and more in the control of the international water passages, and in the physical threat to its Sunni regional rivals.
For that reason, we may see increased Iranian overtures to countries and tribes surrounding Morocco; Tunisia is a particular concern. Iran is likewise likely to take advantage of the Touareg, and of the unstable militia-driven security situation in Libya. Morocco should be vigilant of these developments, and increase its security cooperation with the United States and France to guard against the emergence of these additional fronts.
The United States, meanwhile, should devote resources, to actively countering Iran’s threat in Africa, not only through defense forces and increased intelligence sharing with Morocco and other friendly countries, but through increased engagement, educational cooperation, and support for social and entrepreneurial initiatives that can help strengthen local economies and guard against hostile influences from abroad.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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