Tag Archives: jerusalem

Morocco-Israel normalization constitutes achievement for both countries; US recognition of Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara to increase tensions in region – Morocco & Israel Analysis

Executive Summary:

On December 10, US President Donald Trump announced that Morocco and Israel had agreed to normalize relations. This adds to the growing trend of Arab states that are willing to establish diplomatic ties with Jerusalem as part of a US-brokered process. The agreement has the potential to yield benefits for both countries. Morocco will likely seek to leverage the normalization agreement to gain greater access to US economic and military support.

Also on December 10, in a move likely linked to Rabat’s willingness to officially establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, President Trump signed a proclamation recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara. He also expressed Washington’s support for Rabat’s preferred autonomy proposal for the area.

This comes amid an already volatile situation in Western Sahara following renewed tensions between the Polisario Front Sahrawi separatist organization and Morocco. The Front is likely to perceive Washington’s support for Rabat’s claim as undermining its cause and may therefore seek to escalate the scope and scale of recently claimed near-daily attacks against Moroccan forces.

Avoid all travel to the border areas with Western Sahara, especially areas along the security barrier between Morocco- and Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)-controlled territory, due to the ongoing hostilities and the potential for further escalations.

Current Situation

Morocco-Israel normalization

On December 10, US President Donald Trump announced that Morocco and Israel have agreed to normalize relations and resume full diplomatic ties, including the reopening of liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv.

On December 10, the Moroccan Royal Cabinet stated that given “the special ties…[between] the Jewish community of Moroccan origin, including in Israel” and the Moroccan monarch, the latter intends to authorize direct flights for Israeli tourists, to and from Morocco; resume full diplomatic relations with Israel; and promote economic and technological relations, including by reopening liaison offices.

US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara

Simultaneously on December 10, President Trump also signed a proclamation recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, stating that “Morocco’s…autonomy proposal is the only basis for a just and lasting solution…[in the region]”.

The proclamation ended a decades-long US policy of adhering to a UN-led position which calls for a referendum in Western Sahara over self-determination, to which Morocco opposes.

The Moroccan Royal Cabinet press release from December 10 stated that the US has also committed to open an American consulate in Western Sahara’s Dakhla, with an economic focus, “in order to encourage American investments”.

The separatist Western Sahara-based Polisario Front organization declared that the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara by the US has no effect and remains illegal under international law.

Assessments & Forecast

Normalizing of Morocco-Israel relations constitutes diplomatic, economic achievements for both countries

The Moroccan recognition constitutes the fourth instance whereby an Arab state has recognized and agreed to fully normalize relations with Israel over recent months, starting with the signing of the “Abraham Accords” on September 15 by the UAE and Bahrain. This was followed by a Sudanese commitment to normalize ties with Israel on October 23. In this context, although Morocco already reportedly maintained some overt and covert ties with Israel, including limited trade, an entry permit to Israeli nationals, and covert security cooperation, the proclamation constitutes a notable development. FORECAST: The agreement will assist the Israeli government to project the sustained momentum in Arab recognition of Israel and the benefits of full diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. The Israeli government may also capitalize upon Morocco as a gateway to develop diplomatic and economic relations with other African states. This is given that Morocco maintains influence over several countries in the continent and is currently the most prominent African investor in the West Africa region, according to the US State Department.

FORECAST: The development will also bolster the economies of both countries. It will boost trade between the parties, with Israeli businesses constituting a source of foreign investment in Morocco, which the Kingdom strives to encourage amid a prolonged economic crisis. Such investments will likely come in the form of joint ventures in the fields of agritech, water management, and renewable energy. These are prominent fields where Israeli companies maintain know-how and in which Moroccan authorities seek bolstered development as part of their strategic planning. The value Rabat attributes to these sectors has significantly increased in recent years as the country has been facing a severe drought that includes the gradual depletion of water sources. This has adversely impacted farmers in Morocco and the agricultural sector as a whole, which accounts for a significant share of Morocco’s workforce and GDP.

FORECAST: Furthermore, direct flights between Israel and Morocco, albeit depending on the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, will boost tourism, another significant pillar of Morocco’s GDP. This will partially be based on the fact that approximately a million Israeli nationals have full or partial Moroccan roots, and that Morocco constitutes a focal point for Jewish heritage trips. In addition, Morocco is a relatively large exporter of agricultural products, phosphates, and other materials, such as textiles, which will now be more freely available to Israeli importers, potentially positively impacting the cost of living in Israel.

Morocco likely to aim to leverage normalization agreement with Israel to gain greater US military, economic support

The development will also likely benefit Morocco in terms of US financial investment and arms sales with Morocco. Recent events indicate that under the current US administration, the process of normalization with Israel is likely to benefit the participant countries in the form of more favorable access to procurement of sophisticated US arms. This was most saliently illustrated by the US Senate’s December 9 approval of the sale of sophisticated F-35 aircraft and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the UAE, less than three months after it signed the Abraham Accords. In this context, Rabat likely perceives, or even may have received direct indications from the US administration, that its ability to acquire qualitative US-made arms is pending upon an accord to normalize relations with Israel. This assessment is supported by reports indicating that Rabat is indeed currently negotiating the purchase of sophisticated UAVs with Washington. Rabat’s position has likely been bolstered in this regard by its willingness to publicly recognize and reach an agreement with Jerusalem in a US-brokered agreement. Such acquisitions are important for Rabat as it seeks a qualitative buildup of its military capabilities, primarily through the US.

Furthermore, the Moroccan statement that the US will open a consulate in Western Sahara’s Dakhla, with a primarily economic focus, implies that Washington has indeed committed to financially reward Rabat by promoting American investments in the region, including in disputed territory. This assessment is further supported by reports that indicate that the Trump administration has also committed to supporting direct financial investment of three billion USD that will be spent on banks, hotels, and a renewable energy company in the Kingdom. As the Moroccan economy has been struggling against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, including in the aforementioned fields, this likely served as another significant impetus driving Rabat towards normalization. In addition, putting the economic benefits aside, the opening of a US consulate in Dakhla represents additional significance given its location in Western Sahara. It would constitute another political and symbolic recognition of Rabat’s sovereignty over the territory, including its large phosphate deposits and rich offshore fisheries, which US companies and investors likely seek access to.

FORECAST: That said, US investments in the aforementioned fields may be hindered by two political processes in Washington. First, the forthcoming administration change under which a President-elect Joe Biden-led administration is likely to negatively view the Trump administration’s derailment from the UN-led position on Western Sahara and may further seek to mitigate the diplomatic repercussions of it. Secondly, party control over the currently Republican-dominated US Senate will only be confirmed during January 2021. This will affect dynamics within the US pertaining to the sale of arms to Morocco. This dynamic, however, will likely prompt the incumbent administration to hasten commitments previously made, including arms deals, to see its policy through over the coming several weeks.

The American recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara was likely a major part of Rabat’s willingness to formalize ties with Israel and will be considered by its leadership and much of the populace as a significant diplomatic achievement for the country. FORECAST: Rabat therefore will likely see through its newly-made commitments with regards to establishing relations with Israel. This is despite the fact that the decision to normalize relations with Israel has resulted in domestic tensions in Morocco. This is primarily between the Moroccan monarchy on one side, which has committed Morocco to the move, and the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which has led the Moroccan government since 2011, as well as other Islamist parties and institutions, on the other, which oppose any relations with Israel. The latter has been bolstered by a series of protests that have been forcibly dispersed by Moroccan security forces, which is indicative of both the opposition to the agreement among segments of the local populace and the authorities’ attempts to quell any dissent.

US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara to increase tensions between Morocco, Polisario Front; may escalate scope of fighting in region

The US declaration occurred against the backdrop of an already volatile security situation in Western Sahara. The Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the armed wing of the Polisario Front, has been engaged in near-daily artillery shelling against Royal Moroccan Army (RMA) positions along the security barrier in Western Sahara. These attacks have been occurring daily since November 13, when the RMA launched a security operation in the Guerguerat buffer zone to prevent the Polisario Front from blocking the border crossing with Mauritania, the main commercial artery between Morocco and West Africa.

Tensions were also heightened by the decision of several governments to open consulates in the Morocco-controlled Western Saharan city of Laayoune. Most significantly, the UAE inaugurated a consulate in the city on November 4, becoming the first Arab state to effectively recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory. The Emirates were followed by Bahrain on December 14. The Polisario Front is therefore likely to perceive the new US stance, as well as the openings of foreign consulates within Western Sahara that essentially recognize Morocco sovereignty over the area, as detrimental to its aspirations for self-determination. FORECAST: The Polisario Front will therefore likely seek to escalate its military efforts against Morocco. This may include an increase in the intensity of artillery shelling against RMA positions along the security barrier in both quantitative and qualitative terms, and possibly even result in ground offensives against RMA positions, as a means of signaling that Morocco is bound to pay a price for its alleged “provocations” and violation of the 1991 ceasefire.

FORECAST: The Polisario Front may also proclaim a no-fly zone over Western Sahara, potentially implying that international commercial flights over the territory are under threat. Such actions are not unprecedented, as was highlighted on October 28, 2018, when Polisario Front officials reportedly claimed the deployment of surface-to-air missile systems along the “Berm” and issued warnings to foreign commercial airliners not to operate in the region.

FORECAST: While the Front is unlikely to deliberately target commercial airlines to prevent an international backlash that will undermine its reputation and credibility, it may seek to issue such warnings to project that the new US stance has made the security environment of the region volatile. This may be used by the Polisario Front as leverage during future negotiations sponsored by international stakeholders such as the UN and the African Union (AU), both of which have denounced the US’s unilateral move and called for talks to solve the conflict. Furthermore, the Polisario Front’s ability to project that the security environment of the region has deteriorated will be of value to the Front especially against the backdrop of the forthcoming change in US administrations, whereby it will seek a reversal of President Trump’s policy stance by the forthcoming Biden administration. Regardless, localized on ground hostilities between the SPLA and RMA will persist, and potentially even escalate amid the increased political tensions over the future of Western Sahara, over the coming months.

US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, Moroccan normalization with Israel, to increase geopolitical tensions in Maghreb region

Meanwhile, the new US stance will likely impact geopolitical dynamics in North Africa and trigger tensions with regional powers, primarily Algeria, the chief political and military backer of the Polisario Front. This support includes the hosting of up to 165,000 Sahrawi refugees in refugee camps in Algeria’s Tindouf Province along its southwestern border with Morocco. In this context, the proclamation may undermine any diplomatic achievement that may have been gained during former US Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s official visit to Algeria, the first visit by an American defense secretary to Algeria in 14 years. FORECAST: Against the backdrop of the underlying enmity between Algeria and Morocco and the former’s significant support for the Polisario Front, the new development may set the US and Algeria further apart and may also push Algeria to increase its military support for the SPLA.

More broadly, Algeria may be joined in its opposition to the US declaration by other regional actors who have been known to support the Polisario Front and also significantly oppose the normalization process with Israel, such as Iran. In this context, the new development in Moroccan-Israeli relations will be regarded by such actors as confirmation of the perception that Morocco has joined the ranks of an emerging alliance consisting of the US, Israel, and several Arab states, including the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. This alliance, according to Iran, poses a threat to the Islamic Republic’s national security and constitutes a US-spearheaded measure to hinder its own interests in the Middle East. FORECAST: Hence, the development may increase these actors’ motivation to hinder Moroccan interests, potentially by way of a bolstered military support to the Polisario Front. In the case of Iran, allegations of its support to the Polisario Front have already resulted in the severing of ties between Tehran and Rabat by the latter during 2018, when it accused Iran of providing funds, training, and weapons to the Polisario Front.


Travel to Rabat, Casablanca, and Marrakech may continue while adhering to security precautions regarding crime, civil unrest, and militancy.

Avoid all travel to border areas with Western Sahara, especially areas along the security barrier between Morocco- and SPLA-controlled areas in the territory given the ongoing hostilities and the potential for further escalations in the region over the coming weeks.

It is advised to avoid conducting nonessential flights, particularly of low altitude, over Western Sahara, given the elevated threat that the fighting may pose to civilian aircraft. Those conducting essential travel in the area are advised to maintain cruising altitudes higher than at least 7 km.

In major cities, remain vigilant in the vicinity of public squares, government buildings, Jewish community centers, and police stations, as these areas serve as focal points for protests and militant attacks. Alert authorities to unattended or otherwise suspicious packages or baggage, particularly in crowded areas.

Consult with us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary-based consultation and on-ground contingency support options.

Are tensions regarding the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound likely to defuse or escalate in the coming weeks? – Israel/Palestinian Territories Analysis

Background & Current Situation

Background of Incident

On July 14, three Arab-Israelis conducted a shooting attack inside the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound in Jerusalem, in which they killed two Israeli Policemen and wounded a third. All three militants were subsequently shot and killed. In the aftermath of the attack, Israel closed the compound to all visitors in order to search it for additional weapons that may have been hidden on the premises. The compound was reopened by Israel on July 16 after metal detectors were placed at its entrances. Additionally, during the overnight hours of July 22-23, Israeli authorities placed closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras inside the compound as added security measures to prevent future attacks.

Response by Arab Leaders

The Arab and Muslim world widely condemned these added security measures, claiming that they were an Israeli attempt to alter the status quo at the religious site. As a result, the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf closed all mosques in Jerusalem on July 21 and called all Muslims to instead hold mass prayers in the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound. In response, Israel allowed only women and men over the age of 50 to access the Old City on that day in order to mitigate the threat of unrest. Furthermore, on July 22, the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas announced that the PA “froze all relations with Israel in response to the measures in Jerusalem”. Meanwhile, Hamas, which praised the July 14 attack, criticized the PA’s announced measures as “ineffective”.

Unrest in Jerusalem and West BankAre tensions regarding the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound likely to defuse or escalate in the coming weeks? - Israel/Palestinian Territories Analysis | MAX Security

Nonetheless, since July 16, clashes at varying intensities between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces have taken place on a near-daily basis in the vicinity of the Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Additionally, there has been a significant uptick in incidents of unrest in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories. During the week of July 14-20, 32 instances of unrest were recorded in East Jerusalem, compared to an average of approximately six such incidents per week in the preceding four months.


Demonstrations in MENA Region

Moreover, demonstrations over this issue took place in several locations in the region. This was most prominent in Jordan’s Amman, where weekly Friday protests drew gatherings in the high-hundreds, and in Turkey, including in major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, with crowds in the low hundreds in each event. Additional small scale demonstrations took place in Bahrain and Morocco.

Lone-wolf attacks following the event

Lastly, On July 21, three Israelis were killed when a militant entered their house in the West Bank Israeli town of Halamish. Additionally, on July 23 a Jordanian of Palestinian origin stabbed an Israeli security officer inside the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman, Jordan, and was subsequently shot and killed along with a bystander. Finally, on July 24 a Palestinian conducted a stabbing attack in Petah Tikva, Israel, and claimed to have done so “for al-Aqsa”.

Are tensions regarding the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound likely to defuse or escalate in the coming weeks? - Israel/Palestinian Territories Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

While the events in Jerusalem garnered significant attention in the Arab and Muslim world and led to major incidents of unrest, unless unexpected events unfold, it is likely that the situation will be resolved in the coming days or weeks, particularly as it is in the interest of the majority of the actors involved in the process.

In this context, Israel likely has no interest in causing an escalation in violence with the Palestinians, as well as with the Arab and Muslim world as a whole. That said, this is unlikely to deter Israel from ensuring that security is maintained in the compound, especially after the recent attacks and subsequent domestic criticism on lack of effective security at such a sensitive locale. Similarly, an escalation would be counter to the interests of the PA, as such a development will likely empower Hamas at the expense of the PA, and will threaten the latter’s hold in the West Bank. As a result, Abbas’ announcement of “freezing all relations with Israel” was likely meant to pertain to the hardliners in the West Bank and offset any potential influence by Hamas, and to a degree, serve as leverage against Israel, rather than being an effort to encourage additional hostilities.

A political solution regarding the situation in the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound will likely be reached in the coming days or weeks with mediation by the US and Jordan. Such a solution may include the complete removal of metal detectors at the compound, while the CCTV cameras, or an alternative means of monitoring the security situation at the site, remain in place. This is particularly likely as Israel demanded that such monitoring devices should be placed at the compound for months before the recent hostilities started, but was rejected by the Waqf due to claims that this will compromise the status quo at the site. Such a compromise may leave both sides content, as the PA will achieve the symbolic victory of having the metal detectors removed, which have become a symbol of the recent hostilities, while Israel will maintain the additional security measures that it had previously sought.

Meanwhile, the incident in Jordan may cause diplomatic complications between the Hashemite Kingdom and Israel, and therefore, may adversely affect negotiations as Jordan de-facto controls the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, which has authority over the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound. Nonetheless, it is in the interest of Jordan as well to prevent a further escalation in hostilities. Therefore, any effect that the situation may have will likely be limited to prolonging the negotiations and possibly forcing Israel into making further concessions.

Regionally, unrest revolving around the issue has likely reached its peak and such demonstrations are beginning to lose momentum. With this in mind, demonstrations will likely continue until the political issue is resolved, however, will gradually decline in their scope and scale, and will mostly affect Turkey and Jordan, the latter mainly on Fridays which are the preferred day of such gatherings. Additionally, in the period leading to the eventual likely agreement, the threat of low-level, “lone-wolf” attacks against Israeli or Israeli-affiliated targets, similar to that witnessed in Jordan on July 23, will be heightened, but will likely revert following the eventual settling of the issue. Furthermore, there is an increased threat of lone-wolf attacks in general, particularly in Western Europe, by individuals motivated by the perceived violation of the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound and claims of harm against the holy site.

Locally, in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, incidents of unrest are likely to experience a similar trend as the regional ones, with the coming Friday possibly experiencing a last peak in such activities before these gradually reduce until the conclusion of the political issue. The only likely exception to this is East Jerusalem, where protests and acts of unrest are likely to persist at a high rate in the coming weeks, as the population in this area is under greater influence from Islamist organizations, compared to mainstream political ones like the PA, and may not be satisfied with any potential compromise.

In terms of militancy, the coming weeks will likely continue to witness a relative heightened rate of “lone-wolf” attacks against Israelis, mostly consisting of stabbing, vehicular, Molotov cocktail, and low-level shooting attacks, focusing on Jerusalem, the West Bank, and to a lesser degree, Israel. While these are likely to eventually reduce in their scope and scale, given precedent, it remains possible that they will persist at a high rate, causing a lingering heightened threat of militancy over the coming months. Furthermore, while it is in the interest of Hamas to cause an escalation in the West Bank as mentioned above, a significant escalation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip will be against the organization’s interests as a potential Israeli response will pose a significant threat to it, and is therefore unlikely to take place. Nonetheless, limited attacks, mostly in the form of low-level and short range surface-to-surface rockets against Israel, will likely be initiated at a relatively higher rate by Salafist militant groups based in the Gaza Strip.



Travel to Israel may continue at this time while adhering to security precautions regarding militant attacks, while avoiding the immediate vicinity of the Syrian, Lebanese, and Egyptian borders, due to the persistent risk for cross border violence. Those traveling in the 40 km area surrounding the Gaza Strip should continue adhering to all safety precautions regarding early warning sirens for incoming rockets. In case you hear a siren, seek shelter in a protected area and remain inside for at least 10 minutes.

In major Israeli cities, remain vigilant in crowded commercial areas or public transport hubs, as these locations have been targeted by militant groups in the past. Alert authorities to suspicious, unattended packages in these areas. As a general precaution, avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of Jerusalem’s Old City, particularly in the vicinity of Lions’ Gate, due to the reported clashes and a recent heightening of tensions between East Jerusalem residents and Israeli security forces.

Palestinian Territories

Business-essential travel to Ramallah can continue at this time while adhering to basic security precautions regarding the threats of civil unrest and militancy. Consult with us for itinerary-based recommendations and ground support options. Avoid nonessential travel to other Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank at this time given the persistent threat of civil unrest. We advise against all travel to the Gaza Strip at this time due to continuous border crossing closures and the threat of militant activity. If travel is essential, prior to entering Palestinian-controlled areas from Jerusalem-area checkpoints, confirm that crossings remain open and no unrest is taking place. Crossings near the cities of Jenin, Qalqilya, and Tul Karem remain less prone to violence.


Maintain heightened vigilance given the potential for demonstrations and associated acts of unrest related to the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Compound tensions. Avoid the vicinity of any such gatherings. Additionally avoid the immediate vicinity of Israeli diplomatic missions, due to the increased risk for acts of militancy targeting these locales. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.