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Rabat and Tehran: Decades of Tension
Nasser Bourita (Mohamad Abbassi/Wikimedia Commons)

Rabat and Tehran: Decades of Tension

Al-Nahar, Lebanon, October 15

In an interview with Sky News Arabia last week, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita unequivocally affirmed that Morocco will continue to adhere to its position on severing its ties with Iran, and that relations will remain as they are in light of Tehran’s continuous threats to Morocco’s stability. Over the years, Morocco-Iran relations have known many ups and downs. In the era of the shah, the two countries shared many common characteristics, not least of which was their representation of two ancient monarchies in the region. The two countries were also among the only ones in the region that allied themselves with the West during the Cold War. The Shi’ite characteristic of Iran did not have a large presence in Iranian society before the revolution led by Imam Khomeini, as the Shi’ite clerics lived in semi-isolation from politics and focused most of their activity on religious seminaries in Qom. The fall of the shah and the establishment of a theocratic regime in Tehran contributed to the disengagement between the two countries. The two countries that had once been closely aligned entered into an era of confrontation and competition. And yet, Moroccan-Iranian relations are more complex than they appear on the surface. The Moroccan decision two and a half years ago to sever ties with Tehran came after the revelation that the Iranian embassy in Algeria maintained close ties with the Polisario Front, a rebel national liberation movement aiming to end the Moroccan presence in the Western Sahara. Moroccan sources revealed that Iran was providing the Polisario with training, including by facilitating the flow of Hizbullah fighters into the region. There are three main explanations as to why Morocco is so wary of Iran’s behavior. The first is that the Sahara will quickly become a clashing ground between Russia and the United States, with each side supporting an opposing party. The United States will work to strengthen Morocco’s stance in the region while Russia works to undermine it. For example, the ambitious Moroccan project of establishing a gas pipeline linking Nigeria to Europe would significantly weaken Russia’s influence over Europe. Russia may want to undermine such a project, in part by strengthening Iran’s grip over the region. The second explanation has to do with Iran’s continuous work to subtly spread its version of Shi’ism in the region, especially in West Africa. The third explanation has to do with Morocco’s increased relations with Gulf states, especially in the aftermath of the Gulf-Moroccan summit. Despite ups and downs in relations between Raba, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, the three countries have grown closer and more committed to each other’s security. These three possibilities explain, albeit in different ways, Morocco’s decision to cut its ties with Tehran. – Adel Bin Hamza (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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