Why the US Needs to Help Morocco

By Khaled Abu Toameh

  • Morocco’s General Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DGST) announced last month that the Moroccan authorities have dismantled 207 terrorist cells since 2002.
  • As for Morocco… it is the Islamists, and not Israel, who have “corrupted the minds of Moroccans, sowed the seeds of discord among them, brought Moroccan education to the brink of bankruptcy and legitimized ignorance.” — Ahmed Assid, professor of philosophy and activist, kifache.com, December 15, 2020.
  • “The rhetoric of hostility and the threat of throwing the Jews into the sea won Israel widespread international sympathy. The Palestinians have missed many opportunities, and they have been chasing the illusions given to them by the [Arab] regimes…” — Sa’id Al-Kahal, a secular Moroccan author, hespress.com, January 23, 2020.
  • If the new US administration wants peace in the region to hold, it needs to maintain pressure on the mullahs in Tehran and not return to the policy of appeasement. Failure to do so would facilitate the mission of the Islamists to destabilize the Middle East, and especially the courageous countries that are finally opting for peace.
On September 10, Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (BCIJ) said it dismantled a five-member terror cell. Pictured: A September 11, 2020 press conference in Salé, Morocco by the director of BCIJ, displaying weapons and other equipment seized from an Islamic State group-affiliated terrorist cell. (Photo by /AFP via Getty Images)

Will Morocco face Islamist terror attacks after its decision to normalize its relations with Israel? Iran and its Islamists proxies in Morocco, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip have condemned the Israel-Morocco normalization deal as a “betrayal of Islam,” a move that could lead to a wave of terror attacks by various Islamist groups, particularly Islamic State (ISIS).

Now that Morocco has decided to make peace with Israel, ISIS and other terrorist groups are likely to increase their plans to thwart the agreement by launching terror attacks in the country.

In the eyes of the Islamists, a “betrayal of Islam” is seen as apostasy, a crime and sin punishable by execution. The message Iran and its allies are sending to the terrorists: You have a green light to launch terror attacks against the leaders of Morocco because, by making peace with Israel, they have also renounced their religion, Islam, and become infidels.

Days before the normalization agreement was announced, Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (BCIJ) announced that it dismantled a three-member terror cell with links to ISIS in the northern city of Tetouan.

The suspects, aged between 21 and 38 years old, had pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video in which they also vowed to carry out terrorist attacks to undermine Morocco’s security and stability.

On September 10, BCIJ said it dismantled a five-member terror cell in Tangier and Tiflet, Skhirat, and Temara near Rabat. On October 27, a suspected terrorist from the September arrest murdered a prison employee in the prison of Tiflet, 67 kilometers from Rabat. The ISIS terrorist also injured three other prison employees when they intervened to save their colleague.

BCIJ recently succeeded in dismantling another three-member, ISIS-linked terrorist group in the city of Agadir. The members of the Agadir terror cell sought to obtain firearms and materials used in the manufacture of explosive devices. In 2018, BCIJ also dismantled a three-member terror cell operating in Tetouan and Agadir.

Since 2003, Morocco has witnessed three tragic terrorist attacks: The May 16 bombings in Casablanca in 2003, the Argana attack in Marrakech in 2011, and the murder of two Scandinavian tourists in Imlil in 2018.

Meanwhile, Morocco’s General Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DGST) announced last month that the Moroccan authorities have dismantled 207 terrorist cells since 2002.

In the last three years alone, Moroccan security services dismantled 32 terrorist cells, the majority of which were affiliated with ISIS.

The latest security crackdown is part of Morocco’s approach against terrorism amid the increase of terror threats as well as the “persistence of individuals steeped in extremist ideology to serve the destructive agendas of various terrorist organizations,” according to Moroccan authorities.

The head of the BCIJ, Abdelhak El Khiame, said that Morocco is among the countries targeted by ISIS’s extremism and violent ideology.

Ahmed Assid, a Moroccan professor of philosophy and a political activist, said that the Islamists who have come out against the Israel-Morocco normalization agreement are worried because the deal “pulls the rug from under their feet.” The Islamists, he said, are talking about the “dangers of an [Israeli] penetration of the Moroccan social fabric, which they themselves are keen on penetrating every day.”

Morocco’s decision to establish relations with Israel is interpreted by the Islamists as a change in the mentality of Moroccans and the direction of their thinking, Assid explained.

“This is what they [Islamists] fear deeply, because their purpose is to exercise control over people’s minds. They consider what is happening now to be against their interests and perhaps signaling the end of political Islam.”

Assid pointed out that the Islamists do not really care about the Palestinian issue, which they (the Islamists) have long been exploiting to justify their campaign of incitement against Arabs who want to make peace with Israel.

Referring to the Islamists’ claim that normalization with Israel is what brings about war and strife, he emphasized that Israel has nothing to do with the turmoil, unrest and violence that has swept through several Arab countries in the past decade.

“Didn’t Saddam Hussein’s Iraq bring havoc on itself by invading its neighbor, Kuwait?” Assid asked.

“Wasn’t Syria destroyed by a Qatari-Turkish alliance that displaced its people with the blessing of the Union of Muslim Scholars? How did Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya witness destruction that has prevented it from building a modern state for all its citizens? Who transferred 17,000 terrorists belonging to the [Salafist jihadist] Al-Nusra Front from Syria to Libya? Was it Israel or Turkey, which did so with the blessing of Qatar? How did Saudi Arabia declare war on Yemen? Was this due to the normalization of relations with Israel? Are the Iran-backed] Houthi militias operated by Israel? Was the Egyptian uprising against [former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, the overthrow of [Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed] Morsi and the return of the military to power the result of the Egyptian regime’s normalization with Israel? What about Sudan? Was Israel the one that asked the Muslim Brotherhood government to kill 300,000 citizens in Darfur, displace two million people, and discriminate against Christians in the south by applying Islamic law, which led to the division of the country into two states? Was it Israel that inspired the Muslim Brotherhood military government of [former Sudanese leader Omar] Al-Bashir to raise the price of bread and basic materials and enact racist and unpopular decisions that led to the explosion of the street and the collapse of his rule?”

As for Morocco, Assis added, it is the Islamists, and not Israel, who have “corrupted the minds of Moroccans, sowed the seeds of discord among them, brought Moroccan education to the brink of bankruptcy and legitimized ignorance.”

“Before they talk to us about Israeli infiltration of our society, they must apologize for their previous mistakes. We are not fools; the Islamists must respect our minds, at least by presenting logical arguments to persuade us.”

Sa’id Al-Kahal, a secular Moroccan thinker, also lashed out at the Islamists for pretending to work for the benefit of the Palestinians.

Al-Kahal said that defending the Palestinian issue does not necessarily entail antagonizing and boycotting Israel. “The rhetoric of hostility and the threat of throwing the Jews into the sea won Israel widespread international sympathy,” he remarked.

“The Palestinians have missed many opportunities, and they have been chasing the illusions given to them by the [Arab] regimes. That is why Morocco chose to focus on what serves the cause of its territorial integrity and allows it to win the support of the most powerful country in the world. The decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Sahara, signed by the US president, will serve our national cause. It will strengthen Morocco’s role as a regional power in Africa. The decision is a historic one and a watershed that will accelerate the end of the war that Algeria imposes on Morocco.”

Relations between Morocco and Algeria have long been strained, mainly due to an ongoing disagreement over the political status of Western Sahara.

Without question, Morocco will require the assistance of the international community, specifically the new US administration, to foil the Islamists’ terror schemes. The war on the Islamists is far more extensive than the dismantlement of an ISIS cell in a Moroccan city. Such a war requires quick and strong action against those who sponsor and embolden the terrorists, especially Iran. If the new US administration wants the Israel-Morocco normalization agreement to hold, it needs to maintain pressure on the mullahs in Tehran and not return to the policy of appeasement. Failure to do so would facilitate the mission of the Islamists to destabilize the Middle East, especially the courageous countries that are finally opting for peace.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

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