In Morocco, the Arab-Israeli conflict seems like ancient history (& Saudi-Israel agreements in the works)

June 04, 2022

An Israeli orchestra performing last month near the Giza Pyramids in Egypt (on May 14), part of the celebrations to mark Israel's 74th Independence Day in Cairo



[Note by Tom Gross]

Much attention has been paid to the increasingly warm ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the most successful of the Trump-Netanyahu era Arab-Israeli peace deals. But Israeli ties with other Arab countries have flourished too as a result of the Jared Kushner-brokered Abraham Accords. Notably Morocco.

I attach a piece from the current edition of London's Economist magazine about the friendly relations developing between ordinary Israeli and Moroccan citizens.

As the Economist notes, in Morocco "The Arab-Israeli conflict seems like ancient history."


Israel signed an historic trade deal with the UAE last week. As the New York Times writes (in the second article below) "The agreement highlighted deepening ties between Israel and parts of the Arab world. Once ratified, it will remove tariffs on 96 percent of bilateral trade."

"The speed at which the deal took shape -- it was sealed less than two years since the establishment of formal ties between Israel and the Emirates -- highlights the readiness with which Israel is now being accepted by some Arab leaders after years of diplomatic isolation.

"That changed in 2020, when Israel, in four agreements brokered by the Trump administration, established diplomatic relations with Bahrain and the U.A.E., re-established them with Morocco and improved relations with Sudan," acknowledges the New York Times (which at the time that the deals were signed was reluctant to give the Trump or Netanyahu administrations any credit for painstakingly forging these peace agreements).

(A friend adds: This is the first free trade agreement between Israel and an Arab state. The UAE only has free trade agreements with its Gulf neighbors and the EFTA countries (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein). The new agreement means that Israel will be able to trade tariff-free throughout the Gulf via the UAE.)


The last two pieces below are from Globes, the Israeli business newspaper, about the increasingly close business relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and (according to Globes) the fact that Saudi Arabia and Israel are preparing important cooperation agreements in medicine, agriculture and energy.

Israeli businesspeople have recently been visiting both Riyadh, the economic center of Saudi Arabia, and Neom, the so-called "city of the future" near Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast. Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-US secretary of state Mike Pompeo held a hush-hush meeting in Neom with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in November 2020, as I noted at the time.

-- Tom Gross



"A stronger Israel in a less stable world," Nov 25, 2021

Tom Gross argues that despite the various threats and challenges it still faces, Israel has never been in a stronger position: diplomatically, economically, militarily, culturally. Meanwhile, unfortunately several Arab states are in a state of full or partial disintegration (Syria, Libya, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq) -- and the wider world is in many ways less stable than at any time since the end of WW2.



1. "More than just business buddies. Israeli firms and tourists are piling into Morocco" (The Economist, June 4 2022)
2. "Israel Signs Trade Deal With UAE" (The New York Times, June 1, 2022)
3. "Saudi Arabia and Israel preparing major diplomatic meeting" (Globes, May 29, 2022)
4. "Israeli passport? Saudi Arabia welcomes you" (Globes, May 30, 2022)




More than just business buddies
Israeli firms and tourists are piling into Morocco
The Economist
June 4, 2022

A once-furtive friendship has burst into the open

In a railway carriage heading towards Marrakech four Moroccan women, all strangers to each other, talk about Israel. "They're so much more welcoming than the racist, superior French," says a Moroccan tour guide, recounting her experiences of passport control. An events organiser shares videos of her raves for Israelis in a farm outside Marrakech. A nurse uses the French word for Jerusalem, not the Islamic al-Quds, though all the women are speaking Arabic. "Israel has always protected us," she says, then has a dig at the Palestinians.

"The king gave Yasser Arafat everything and he just betrayed us by siding with Algeria over Western Sahara," referring to the Palestinians' longtime leader and Morocco's dispute over a sandy territory that it occupies. All four applaud the peace deal Israel signed with Morocco a year and a half ago.

For decades Israel was Morocco's shadowy secret. Business between the two went through networks of intermediaries, often Jewish-Moroccan exiles in Paris and intelligence agents. Syrian tanks captured by Israel ended up in Morocco. Israelis helped fortify the wall that Morocco built to keep guerrillas out of Western Sahara.

Now that the secret friendship has become official, the couple are getting to know each other. They have signed a plethora of military, business and cultural deals, often with loud hurrahs. The Arab-Israeli conflict seems like ancient history.

Israel's satellite channel, i24, is opening bureaus in Casablanca and Rabat, Morocco's commercial and political capitals. The gala i24 staged on May 30th had a grander guest list than most Western embassies could hope to muster on their national days. Huge Stars of David flashed on a stage in the heart of the Chellah, Rabat's crenellated medieval fortress, candle-lit for the occasion. Wine from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights lubricated a sumptuous five-course meal.

Israeli tourists, meanwhile, are flocking in. Morocco expects 200,000 this year, up fourfold since the accord, with ten direct flights a week. Some Israelis come to party, others to visit the shrines of what Morocco says are some 600 Jewish saints, or to rediscover family roots, since some 700,000 Israelis are of Moroccan origin.

Well-organised trade delegations are piling in, too. Officially, trade at last count was worth a modest $131m a year. But that excludes arms, services, a flourishing digital and cyber market and joint ventures with third countries. One deal involving Morocco and Marom Energy, an Israeli company, together with a Spanish consortium, to provide solar and wind power for Spain is worth $1.2bn. Israeli companies are bidding for big water projects, including a desalination plant for Casablanca. They are also looking into fishing, cannabis farming and gas. Morocco has just hosted a three-day parade of Israeli startups, including Supplant, a company that calibrates irrigation according to weather and soil type. "There's such high interest," says an Israeli diplomat. "It's crazy."

Military deals discreetly dwarf all the others; five of the latest are said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars apiece. Moroccan officials say Israeli digitisation has given them the edge over Algeria in their row over Western Sahara. Israel Aerospace Industries is building two plants to manufacture drones and may even install a missile-defence system. "Mossad at our borders," cried an Algerian headline, when Israel's defence minister arrived in the kingdom last year.

Morocco may be warier of creating full-blooded political links, as it fears a one-sided deal. King Mohammed suspended plans to open an embassy in Tel Aviv and has yet to accredit Israel's ambassador. Western Sahara remains a stumbling block. To entice Morocco into its peace deal with Israel, Donald Trump's administration promised to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory. But President Joe Biden has backed away --and Israel has stopped short of recognition. For full diplomatic relations, Morocco seems to be saying, both America and Israel should fully accept Morocco's Saharan claim. In other words, land for peace.



Israel Signs Trade Deal With UAE
By Patrick Kingsley
The New York Times
June 1, 2022

JERUSALEM -- Government ministers from Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed a free-trade agreement on Tuesday that, once ratified, would be the widest-ranging deal of its kind between Israel and an Arab country and the latest example of deepening ties between the Jewish state and some Arab governments.

The text of the deal has yet to be published and is still subject to review by the Israeli Parliament and formal ratification by the Israeli government, a process that will take at least two weeks. But officials said that once confirmed, the agreement would loosen restrictions on almost all trade between the two countries and could increase its annual value 10-fold within five years.

The speed at which the deal took shape -- it was sealed less than two years since the establishment of formal ties between Israel and the Emirates -- highlights the readiness with which Israel is now being accepted by some Arab leaders after years of diplomatic isolation.

For decades, Israel was ostracized by all but two Arab countries, with the others mostly avoiding formal diplomatic relations with it because of the lack of resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That changed in 2020, when Israel, in four agreements brokered by the Trump administration, established diplomatic relations with Bahrain and the U.A.E., re-established them with Morocco and improved relations with Sudan.

The agreements reflected a shift in priorities by those countries, which now consider the creation of a Palestinian state of less immediate importance than building a united front against the threat of Iran and establishing better trade and military ties with Israel.

The trade deal signed Tuesday in Dubai by the Israeli and Emirati economy ministers -- Orna Barbivay and Abdulla bin Touq al-Marri -- is the most substantive consequence of those agreements.

The deal will lead to the removal of tariffs on 96 percent of goods traded between the two countries within five years, both ministries said.

Bilateral trade was worth $885 million in 2021, the Israeli economy ministry said. The free trade agreement may allow the annual value of trade to rise to $10 billion within five years, the Emirati economy ministry said.

The Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, described the deal as "historic," and said that the negotiations, which began around the time of Mr. Bennett's visit to the Emirates last December, led to "the fastest F.T.A. to be signed in Israel's history."

Mohamed Al Khaja, the Emirati ambassador to Israel, called it "an unprecedented achievement."

According to the Israeli government, the deal will enhance the trade of medicine, medical equipment, food, plastic goods and fertilizer, as well as Israeli jewelry.

The deal will also improve bilateral cooperation over intellectual property rights, copyright and patents, particularly in the technology and agriculture sectors. It could also help Israeli and Emirati companies compete for government contracts in either country, the Israeli statement said.

The deal follows several other milestones in the relationship between Israel and its new Arab partners.

Mr. Bennett and several of his ministers have met their counterparts in the U.A.E. and Bahrain -- visits that were once considered unthinkable -- and some ministers have also visited Morocco. Those warming ties have also bolstered Israel's relationship with Egypt, its oldest Arab partner. Egypt and Israel sealed a peace deal in 1979 but avoided establishing a warm relationship until the recent thaw between Israel, the Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

In a sign of improving ties between Israel and Egypt, Mr. Bennett met in March in Egypt with both Mohammed bin Zayed, the Emirati leader, and the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi -- another summit that would have been hard to imagine before 2020.

Israel has also signed provisional defense agreements with the Bahraini and Moroccan defense ministries, making it easier for their armies to coordinate and trade military equipment. And in a highly symbolic meeting in March, the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, the U.A.E. and the United States gathered in southern Israel, at the retirement home of Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

Jews living in the Emirates are also observing their religious traditions increasingly openly. Community leaders estimate that the number of resident observant Jews in Dubai has doubled, to 500, in the last year, and at least five kosher restaurants have opened in that time.



Saudi Arabia and Israel preparing major diplomatic meeting
At the meeting an aviation agreement and cooperation agreements in research and technology in medicine, agriculture and energy will be signed, a source has told "Globes."
By Danny Zaken
Globes, Israel business newspaper
May 29, 2022

Saudi Arabia is allowing Israeli businesspeople to enter the country with their Israeli passports after receiving a special visa, sources close to the matter have told "Globes." For the most part it is representatives and managers of Israeli technology companies who are being invited to visit by the Saudis. This is a dramatic change and follows the cancellation in recent months of the blanket ban on Israeli passport holders, making it easy for special visas to be obtained.

Dozens of Israeli businesspeople have taken advantage of this option and visited Riyadh, the economic center of Saudi Arabia and other locations like Neom.

All this is preparing the ground for a major diplomatic meeting between Israel and Saudi Arabia with economic and defense components, an international source familiar with the matter has told "Globes." Among other things, agreements will be signed in aviation, and cooperation in research and technology in medicine, agriculture and energy.

The source explained, "The Saudis prefer that, publicly, reporting should focus mainly on economic affairs, because on other subjects there are still many obstacles, but the economic openness testifies to the coming steps that are not far away." These matters have been confirmed by other sources in Israel, the US and even a source in Saudi Arabia itself.

The source said that last week's article in "Globes" on economic relations was translated to Arabic and seen by senior figures in Saudi Arabia. The source said that those senior figures response was that, "The spirit of things was that the time had come that these things should not be concealed. Both countries have much to give each other, and the economic-commercial-technological direction is the right direction at the moment. The publication (in Globes) will also help ties and visits and that's good."

The source added that many Saudis were applying to come to Israel and promote business and see how technologies work, especially in agriculture and advanced technology areas.



Israeli passport? Saudi Arabia welcomes you
Saudi Arabia has relaxed its entry rules for Israeli businesspeople, and trade is burgeoning.
By Danny Zaken
Globes, Israel business newspaper
May 30, 2022.

After lifting the ban on Israelis in its territory, dozens of businesspersons with Israeli passports have landed in Saudi Arabia. Their goal: take advantage of warming relations between the countries to advance bilateral economic agreements. These visits have resulted in two multimillion-dollar desert agriculture deals, in addition to a medical equipment contract.


The United States is mediating between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt towards normalization of relations. On the agenda is also the issue of completing the transfer of Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi sovereignty. But normalization with Saudi Arabia, even if not officially announced, is already almost here. This is reflected in large recently signed deals, visits by businesspeople with Israeli passports on special visas to Saudi Arabia, and advanced contacts for investment in Israel by Saudi businesspeople and investment funds.

"For over twenty years we've had an indirect connection with Saudi Arabia, but I don't recall ever seeing a boom like the one we've had in recent months," a source familiar with the matter told "Globes". Those commercial ties were behind the scenes, mostly through companies registered in Europe or other countries, and the deals - in sectors ranging from civilian to security - were signed in those countries.

"Globes" has learned that, for months, Saudi Arabia has been permitting Israeli businesspeople - mainly representatives and managers of Israeli technology companies invited by the Saudis - to enter its territory on Israeli passports with special entry visas. The change that has taken place in recent months is the lifting of the blanket ban that had been in place, and easing of the special visa issue process.

Dozens of businesspeople have taken advantage of this opportunity and visited Riyadh, the economic center of Saudi Arabia, and also other places like Neom - the city of the future being built not far from the Red Sea coast. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu also visited this city, and according to reports, met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in November 2020, a meeting also attended by then-US secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

These visits have spawned quite a few deals, including two desert agriculture deals worth millions of dollars. According to an informed source, these projects make use of Israeli water technology, essential for the Saudi Arabian desert climate, in combination with other Israeli agricultural technologies. These two technologies are being monitored closely by the monarchy, with the goal of expanding them as part of Saudi Arabia's efforts to achieve food security and self-sufficiency.

These projects have significance for the entire Middle East, as they also demonstrate to other countries in the region Israel's ability to assist in areas especially important to countries suffering from food shortages.

Israeli businesspeople and agritech specialists insiders are not surprised by the Saudi investment. "Other than a direct diplomatic connection - and direct bank transfers - we have everything we need between the countries to sustain a business connection, sign deals, and transfer goods and know-how," one Israeli businessman tells "Globes".


"Globes" has learned that, as part of this recent activity, other deals have been signed in agriculture and civilian technology sectors like medical devices (medtech). In addition, there is a growing interest in investing not only in startups but also in proven Israeli products. Those same sources estimate that these transactions are close to being signed, and will precede the institutional investments to be made through the Saudi Public Investment Fund (the sovereign wealth fund).

Dr. Nirit Ofir, CEO Chamber of Commerce and Industry Israel-GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), says that "the interesting thing is that it's the private sector, on both sides, pulling things forward rapidly." She adds, "Businesspeople are not limited by diplomatic issues, and when personal interests and business interests come together - they move ahead." She emphasizes that, unlike with the UAE, the transactions are between businesspeople in the private commercial sector, and not between the two states.


Another confirmation of Israeli activity in Saudi Arabia comes from Riyadh. An informed source, a senior Saudi official, told "Globes" that the number of entry visas applications for Israelis filed by Saudi businesspeople was growing, as was the rapid rise in interest and thirst for information about Israeli technologies. The source adds that meetings between businesspeople from the two sides are also taking place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, as well as in Manama, the capital of Bahrain.

"The government here sees the possibilities inherent in this activity, which suits the plans and major reforms promoted by the Crown Prince."

Security and intelligence ties are important to the two countries, mainly because of the common enemy: Iran. A number of reports have indicated sales taking place of Israeli security systems to Saudi Arabia. This shared concern has created the common ground needed in other areas, and has also given Israel a far greater geopolitical influence than in the past. This is evidenced by the US's recent attempts to recruit Israel to help persuade Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, in the face of the global shortage of energy resources created by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Saudis, who have been disappointed by the US several times in recent years, did not readily agree. This week, two of US President Joe Biden's advisers arrived in Saudi Arabia to advance the matter. These talks - according to US sources - will also raise the matter of promoting economic and trade relations with Israel.


Officially, Saudi Arabia is wary of public ties with Israel. The Saudis make clear at every opportunity that progress with Israel will come only after progress with the Palestinians. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan reiterated this week, "The integration of Israel in the region will be a huge benefit not only for Israel but for the entire region. But without addressing the core problems of the Palestinian people and granting respect and sovereignty to the Palestinian people through the establishment of a Palestinian state, the instability and threats to Israel's security and the entire region's security, will continue."

Unofficially, however, the Saudis, as expressed on social media, blame the Palestinians as well. Pictures of stones, Molotov cocktails and other improvised weapons brought by young Palestinians into the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem sparked massive outrage in Saudi Arabia. The diplomatic shift vis-?-vis Israel will probably take place only after the official transfer of power from King Salman to his son Mohammed. But economic change is already here, and the pace is picking up.


Saudi Arabia's ongoing confrontation with Iran, both over the nuclear issue (especially in the period of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement) and the civil war in Yemen, has led to further understandings between Saudi Arabia and Israel, this time in security and intelligence.

The gathering momentum in civil relations came in the wake of the Abraham Accords, signed by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Saudi Arabia's neighbors: the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The largely positive way in which this agreement was received by Saudi public opinion, plus its economic and other benefits, paved the way for these ties to be expanded. For example, the Saudi's tacit agreement was expressed through the allowing planes flying to and from Israel to fly over Saudi territory, on routes between Israel and the Emirates and Bahrain, and also to the Far East.

A significant step, taken in recent weeks, towards normalizing the relationship and allowing it to emerge from the shadows was report in the "Wall Street Journal" about a $2 billion Saudi investment in the private equity fund set up by Jared Kushner, son-in-law of former US president Donald Trump. The $3 billion fund targets investment in Israeli advanced technology companies.

This is not the first time that Saudi Arabia has invested in Israeli companies: via the investment fund of another former Trump administration official, Steven Mnuchin, the kingdom is investing in Israeli start-ups operating in the US that have agreements with the US defense establishment, including cyber companies Zimperium and Cybereason. But the investment in Kushner's fund comes from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, with the direct approval of Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's regent and strong man.


* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you "like" this page on Facebook

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.