Morocco’s increasingly modernizing military is unsettling Spain, but Algeria and Polisario are Rabat’s primary preoccupation.
Rabat – Morocco’s increased purchases of military equipment has caught the eyes of its Spanish neighbor, with the European country’s military circles sounding an alarm bell about Rabat’s increasing “military might.”
While Spain has no reason to fear strikes from Morocco, Spanish military officials reacted in a mix of worry and fascination at the recent announcement of Morocco purchasing 25 US-manufactured F-16s, according to El Confidential, a Spanish outlet said to be close to the country’s military circles.
According to the Spanish newspaper, Morocco is on course to match Spain’s military capabilities, especially in air striking capacity. The paper especially cited the newly-acquired F-16s and Morocco’s “growing jet fighters fleet,” noting the purchases have “modernized” and “sophisticated” Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces (FAR).
While the big investments in FAR have especially attracted the attention of the Spanish military establishment, the newspaper explained that previous purchases for other military departments did not go unnoticed.
It said that top Spanish army officials have been closely following Rabat’s investments in “last generation equipments to modernize” its land, air, and marine forces.
Prior to the colossal investments in upgrading its air forces, Rabat had spent a considerable amount on its infantry and navy.
In April 2018, Morocco received 162 third-generation US-made Abrams tanks as part of a 2017-agreed $115 million deal with the Pentagon. In the same year, Rabat purchased over 1,200 state-of-the-art antitank missiles, according to the Spanish paper.
Topping the list of Morocco’s security-related efforts are, its first and second Mohammed VI satellites, launched within a very short interval of time. El Confidentiel said the two satellites will provide Morocco with cutting-edge accuracy in territorial surveillance.
Commenting on El Confidentiel’s article in its April 5 edition, Moroccan outlet Al Ahdath Al Maghribia remarked, “As it continues expanding its military basis, Morocco can now face any challenges.”
Polisario and Algeria, not Spain, are Morocco’s focus
Taking pride in the Spanish newspaper’s assessment of Morocco’s “growing might,” Al Ahdath Al Maghribia explained that one factor that may give Morocco the upper hand in any prospective confrontation is the “sheer size” of Moroccan forces.
While Spain and Morocco have similar air capabilities, Morocco’s number of military personnel is by far the highest.
At the same time, however, the Spanish navy is better equipped and far stronger than the Moroccan navy, according to both newspapers. Morocco’s active personnel was estimated at 195,000 in 2018, compared to over 121,000 for Spain.
The papers noted that Morocco has not invested much in its naval forces in recent years. Instead, Rabat has overwhelmingly focused on its infantry and air forces. The choice, the papers asserted, suggests that Polisario and Algeria are Morocco’s most urgent preoccupation.
Morocco is on good terms with its European neighbor and has only traditionally been engaged in an arms race with neighboring Algeria, which it accuses of financing and training Polisario troops.
While the paper’s assessment of Morocco’s “security preoccupations” is backed by evidence from the country’s most recent history of military actions, it remains to be seen whether confrontation will Polisario and Algeria will come any time soon.
Despite their perceived irreconcilable disagreements on the Western Sahara territorial dispute, there are indications that neither side is prioritizing confrontation, in spite of threats of military action.
Fearing that confrontation may cause more harm than good for the region—and for local Sahrawis—the parties are currently engaged in a UN-moderated settlement process for a “negotiated and mutually acceptable” solution.