With Iran looking to grow its influence in Africa, many US experts and diplomats are urging Washington to cultivate its security cooperation with Rabat.
Rabat – Former US Deputy Security Adviser, Robert Greenway, has lauded Abdellatif Hammouchi’s leadership of Morocco’s General Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DGST).
In a tweet on April 2, Greenway noted that Morocco’s counter-terrorism agency is “extremely fortunate to have Abdellatif Hammouchi” as its chief. Greenway described the Moroccan official as “a true professional.”
The comment comes in the wake of Moroccan authorities’ arrest of a 57-year-old Lebanese national affiliated to Shiite political party Hezbollah, on allegations of committing fraud and identity theft.
In an article published by the US-based think tank, National Interest, on which Greenway commented, Emanuele Ottolenghi documents Morocco’s efforts to slow Iran’s expansion, particularly within the context of Iran’s allies, Hezbollah.
To grasp the situation in the Middle East requires paying close attention to a complicated thread of alliances, aggressions, and political posturing that must be understood.
Iran continues to draw Morocco’s ire. The latest of such conflicts arose due to Tehran’s vocal support for the separatist Polisario Front during the 9th meeting of the Committee of Special Political Affairs and Decolonization of the United Nations General Assembly.
This is not the first time Morocco and Iran have experienced a public fall-out. The two countries severed ties in May 2018, with Rabat citing Hezbollah’s collusion with the Polisario Front.
Nasser Bourita, the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said the country has “strong proof,” including names and specific “incidents,” showing that Hezbollah is “logistically and strategically” supporting the Polisario Front.
“Hezbollah sent military officials to Tindouf,” Bourita said, accusing the Iranian proxy of providing the Polisario Front with weapons, and training its troops in urban warfare.
In addition to Hezbollah, Iran was among those that opposed Morocco’s renewed relations with Israel. The Middle Eastern country called the decision a “betrayal to Islam” and the Palestinian cause.
US-Moroccan diplomacy, moving forward
It is within the broader context of Iran’s perceived attempts to expand its regional influence, that some observers urge the Biden administration to be careful in how it advances and maintains its diplomatic relations with key strategic allies in the Middle East and Africa.
Ottolenghi noted that while “Morocco’s recent normalization with Israel is promising and Washington should promote it,” the US should also be careful moving forward, as it “has much to lose from a resurgent conflict in Western Sahara.”
He concluded by reiterating that the US should not let “Iran dispatch its proxies,” as it did in Syria a decade ago.
And thus more reasons for the US’ renewed interest in consolidating ties with the North African country become clear. In December 2020, Greenway paid a visit to Morocco, meeting Hammouchi to discuss broader security issues.
Greenway, and the then-US Ambassador in Rabat, David Fischer, met Hammouchi at the DGST headquarters in the Moroccan capital. They agreed that strong security cooperation is one of the key foundations of the Morocco-US partnership.
For his part, Greenway relayed they “renewed the commitment of the American side to assist [Morocco] in the security field and to further cooperation at all levels.”
The former Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dore Gold, cited Iran’s attempts to increase its presence in North Africa as one of the reasons that led to the US’ recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
“This was part of a pattern that the Iranians were following in Africa, seeking to infiltrate the continent by backing military moves of allies they sought to cultivate,” Gold wrote.
Speaking of Iran, Bourita explained that, already, “they tried to develop a presence in Morocco. Today they are repeating the efforts in other North African countries.”
Morocco, an essential partner
Considering Morocco’s demonstrated success in counter-terrorism, the resulting stability on the continent could do more to counter Iran’s rise, than any calculated diplomatic maneuvering.
The overarching sentiment from both Greenway’s and Gold’s comments is that, as long as Iran tries to grow its influence across the Middle East and Africa, the US will have a vested interest in limiting it.
Another idea, albeit not explicitly articulated in US officials’ comments about the evolving US – Morocco ties, is that Rabat’s increasingly feted Pan-Africanism and established continental leadership could be one of the greatest antidotes to Iran’s push to cultivate its presence in Africa.
Many observers have unanimously maintained that an unencumbered and assertive Iran could lead to disastrous consequences for Africa’s fragile security landscape. A related and equally robust consensus among most Africa watchers is that the US should foster its cooperation with Morocco to thwart Tehran’s African ambitions.
Meanwhile, Greenway’s celebratory comments on Morocco’s world-renowned counter-terrorism program is hardly the first time that international observers have acknowledged Rabat’s “model” counter-terrorism approach and its status as an essential partner when it comes to intelligence sharing.
Earlier this year, in January, American outlet News Talk Florida recounted how Morocco played a crucial role in the investigation that led to the arrest of former American soldier James Bridges for attempting to assist ISIS in attacking US troops.
Bridges was arrested and tried for providing “tactical guidance to attempt to help ISIS to attack American forces in the Middle East.” According to reports, his arrest – like countless other counter-terrorism operations before it – would not have happened without “crucial intelligence” from Morocco.