Watch: Lapid Lands In Morocco In 1st Visit By Israeli FM Since 2003

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with Morocco’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohcine Jazouli at Rabat-Sale International Airport, August 11, 2021 (Shlomi Amsalem, GPO)

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Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid arrived in Morocco on Wednesday to kick off a bid to strengthen ties with the North African country nearly a year after the two nations signed an accord to normalize relations.

The centerpiece of Lapid’s face-to-face diplomacy was to be the inauguration of Israel’s mission in the capital, Rabat. His two-day visit is the first to the country by an Israeli minister since 2003, and the first such meeting in Morocco since the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords with four Arab states: Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Israel and Morocco share a long history of formal and informal ties. Many Israelis have lineage that traces back to Morocco, which is still home to a small community of several thousand Jews.

Lapid was accompanied on his trip by Moroccan-born Welfare Minister Eli Cohen (Yesh Atid), Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz; Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Ram Ben Barak; and senior Health Ministry official Inbar Zucker.

Lapid is scheduled to meet his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, and sign several agreements to push forward consultation between the two nations, inaugurate the Israeli Liaison Office, and visit a shul.

Israel and Morocco had low-level diplomatic relations in the 1990s, but Morocco cut them off after the second Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000. The two countries maintained informal ties, with thousands of Israelis traveling to Morocco each year.

As part of the deal to establish formal ties with Israel, the United States agreed to recognize Morocco’s claim over the long-disputed Western Sahara region, though the Biden administration has said it will review that decision. Morocco’s 1975 annexation of Western Sahara is not recognized by the United Nations.

The visit comes as Israel shows off other evidence of the accords moving forward. A senior Bahraini official is visiting Israel this week, where he met with an Israeli general and other officials.

Sheikh Abdulla bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the undersecretary for political affairs in Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry, attended a signing ceremony Wednesday for a partnership between Israel’s Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy and the Gulf country’s Derasat think tank.

“A year ago, there was nothing between our two countries. Today, we have come a very long way,” the sheikh said. “We can confidently say that we have a solid foundation to develop these bilateral ties.”

Sheikh Abdulla bin Ahmed bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, the undersecretary for political affairs at Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry, speaks during a signing ceremony for a new partnership between Israel’s Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy and Bahrain’s DERASAT Institute, in the central Israeli city of Herzliya, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. Al Khalifa is visiting Israel as the two countries strengthen ties after agreeing to normalize relations last year. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Israel and Gulf countries had been quietly improving relations for years as they came to view Iran as a shared threat.

“We sign this (memorandum of understanding) at the time when our shared security interests are taking center stage again,” said Ron Prosor, head of the Abba Eban Institute and a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.

He said a recent attack on an oil tanker in the Arabian Sea that was widely blamed on Iran, and an exchange of fire last week between Israel and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, had only strengthened Israel and its Gulf partners’ determination to present a “firm front” against Tehran.

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem & AP)