The Moroccan decision to sever ties with Iran: Indications and Scenarios


The Moroccan Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Nasser Bourita the cutting of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Iran yesterday. The announcement included the departure of the Moroccan Ambassador to Iran and a request for the Iranian Ambassador to leave Moroccan territory immediately. It has only been a year and a half since relations were restored between the two countries after a seven-year hiatus between 2009 to October 2016. However, accusing Iran of supporting the separatist Polisario Front, which is a sensitive issue for Morocco, relations may witness a very complex political crisis between the two countries.
First: Moroccan accusations and Gulf support
Moroccan accusation
The Moroccan declaration included the condemnation of Iranian cooperation with the so-called Polisario Front, with accusations that the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah and Iranian diplomats working within the Iranian embassy in Algeria such as (Amir Mousavi) are conducting training exercises for Polisario fighters, in particular on the use of surface-to-air missiles. Also, Hezbollah’s weapons and the training of Polisario’s members at a military base in Tindouf, Algeria has been apprised by the Republic of Iran.
A surprise and Iranian denial
The Moroccan allegations, backed by evidence, were not responded to publicly, which proves to an extent the Moroccan position. This led the Foreign Minister to go to Tehran himself presenting the evidence and then returned accompanied with his country’s ambassador. It also reflects how Iranian officials were surprised about these accusations. Although an Iranian official response was delayed for hours, Iran did eventually respond to these accusations through the Foreign Ministry Spokesman who denied the cooperation of the Iranian Embassy in Algeria with the Polisario Front. Also, Hezbollah denied the accusations, claiming in an official statement that they are “baseless allegations” just for the sake of cutting relations between Morocco and Tehran.
Gulf States’ support
The Moroccan move has found regional support in the light of the regional strife mainly provoked by Iran. Relatively the Saudi Foreign Ministry reflected the Kingdom’s support to Morocco and for its decision to sever diplomatic relations with Iran. It confirmed Saudi’s support for the Kingdom of Morocco guaranteeing its security and stability. Moreover, the United Arab Emirates announced its support for Moroccan national issues and its opposition to Iranian interference in Morocco’s internal affairs. Also, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid Ibn Ahmad Al Khalifa, affirmed his country’s support for Morocco’s position because of Tehran’s involvement with Hezbollah in supporting the “enemies of Morocco”.
Second: Clear indications
Moroccan confirmation of Iran’s involvement
During the Moroccan Foreign Minister’s visit to Tehran, he reported directly to the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif of Morocco’s accusations, with strong evidence proving Iran’s involvement in harming Moroccan interests. This direct message denied any Iranian claims that Morocco’s decision for severing relations with Iran was based on pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United States. Nasser Bureita carried to Tehran evidence that proved Iran’s involvement in supporting the Polisario Front.
Iranian insistence on intervention
In fact, this was not the first time that the Moroccan government decided to cut relations with Iran because of suspicion over Iranian interference in Morocco’s internal affairs. In 2009, Morocco severed relations with Iran because of the Iranian diplomatic mission’s activities in Rabat which provoked religious elements in the Kingdom. This is was relating to the dissemination of Shiism by the Iranian Cultural Representation in Rabat, after establishing Shiite Associations such as “Anwar Mouda” and “Liqa’ Al’insany” with Moroccan Shiite collaborators. The Moroccan authorities then launched extensive security campaigns in several Iranian cities, after revealing the formation of a terrorist cell led by Iran’s collaborator Ali Abdulqadir Beliraj in January 2008 who is accused of carrying out terrorist operations in Belgium.
The Development of intervention means
Morocco severed relations in the past for reasons related to the Iranian embassy’s activities and some Iranian soft tools aimed at supporting Shiite activity in Morocco, thus influencing Morocco’s national unity. However, this time, Iran has taken more hostile action by using Hezbollah to support a separatist front seeking independence, threatening the cohesion of the Moroccan state and its territorial integrity, and this may have been the reason of Moroccan annoyance, unlike in the past.
The unfavorable timing for Morocco
The sensitivity of the current development comes along with the closing date for including the Moroccan Sahara issue on the agenda of the Security Council. Relatively Iran seeks to provoke unrest in the Moroccan Sahara, so to appear as an unstable region, requiring direct international intervention, or to help in the goal of dissidents from the Moroccan Sahara to hold a referendum on the secession of the Sahara from the Kingdom of Morocco. Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah would, therefore, be credited if this plan succeeded in leading to a foothold in this vital region, and a guaranteed ally on the shores of the Atlantic which provides a stable base for Iranian activities in West Africa and supports the Iranian presence in Senegal and Nigeria, especially after the Zakzaki group in Nigeria has spread widely in the West of the continent. Through this presence, Iran will, therefore, complement the creation of areas of influence within its regional and international conflict zones and the possession of more pressure points on regional and international actors.
Destructive Diplomatic Policy
The accusation of the Iranian cultural attaché in Algeria, Amir Mousavi, explains his role of running the training of the Polisario Front fighters. With increased involvement of Iranian diplomats in terrorist activities, this highlights the non-peaceful nature of Iranian diplomatic activities and are considered as a basis for the IRGC’ s terrorist activities against host countries. Undoubtedly, the involvement of the cultural attaché in these illegal acts confirms the fact that Iranian cultural attachés are active parts in terrorism and espionage. And affirms that it is a policy by the Supreme Leader to appoint cultural attachés in every embassy which is supervised by the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization. Thus they are not following either the Foreign Ministry nor the Iranian government.
Third: A mysterious future
By observing the Iranian policies in Morocco, it is clear that they used initially a soft infiltration policy aimed at finding a sectarian base to enable it to break the national unity and to establish internal powers of influence, linked to Iran away from the Moroccan state and its institutions. This was reinforced later by using harder policies aimed at influencing the cohesion of the state by supporting separatist groups and thus creating an appropriate environment for intervention and extending its influence. Iran takes advantage of the tension between Morocco-Algeria on the one hand, and the existence of separatist tendencies on the part of the Polisario Front on the other hand. Iran has not hesitated to use its embassy in Morocco as one of its tools, along with its solid arms, which were created specifically for the implementation of its foreign policy. Iran has also employed Hezbollah as a prominent regional ally. Here, Iran seems to have mixed its intervention in Morocco between soft and hard policies. Accordingly, this relationship has entered the crisis stage, and the most important scenarios are:
A severance that will last for a while: This is reinforced by Iran’s hopelessness to deal with this apparent deterioration in relations since it has remained silent so far about Moroccan accusations and has not defended itself, which appear to be based on strong evidence. Adding more fuel to the conflict, Algeria is a part of the crisis especially as Iran’s support for the Polisario Front is through Algerian territory. Morocco has a very strict vision of the Moroccan Sahara issue. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) before and even the African Union now have been boycotting Morocco because of its vision for the Sahara issue, which it considers as Moroccan land and as an indisputable and non-negotiable issue. Iran does not seem to want to establish international relations-based on cooperation and it is persistent to pursue its destructive policies from a sectarian and utilitarian perspective disrespecting the principles of sovereign states. The settlement of the crisis: This is reinforced by the previous experience of restoring relations after a seven-year break between 2009 and 2016, but this will depend on Iranian reaction to Moroccan dissatisfaction and any further attempts by Iran to target Morocco, either its national unity or territorial integrity. However, this scenario seems unlikely to happen because Iran has a desire to maintain its qualitative relationship with Algeria because of the convergent positions of the two countries on a number of regional issues, while Morocco seems to be closer to the position of the Gulf States. At the same, Iran is preparing for a larger regional role that would inevitably lead back to isolation and a boycott, however, given Iranian blindness, this crisis may provide Iran with the access that it requires to the region despite the consequences it and in particular, its population may face.

Editorial Team