A look at Israel’s decades-long covert intelligence ties with Morocco

Jerusalem secured weapons for Morocco and allegedly helped it kill an opposition leader, while Rabat has been credited with helping Jewish state win Six Day War

King Hassan II of Morocco, right, confers with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, second from left, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, left , at the Skhirat Royal Palace in Rabat., Morocco, September 14, 1993. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
King Hassan II of Morocco, right, confers with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, second from left, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, left , at the Skhirat Royal Palace in Rabat., Morocco, September 14, 1993. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Israel and Morocco, who announced Thursday that they are normalizing their relations, have had more than 60 years of covert cooperation on intelligence, security and diplomatic issues.

That collaboration has included the Jewish state helping Morocco acquire advanced military gear and weapons as well as the know-how to use it. It also allegedly helped Rabat assassinate an opposition leader.

Meanwhile, the northern African country enabled the mass emigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel, purportedly helped Israel win the 1967 Six Day War, aided the Israel-Egypt peace process and reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, to help the Mossad kill Osama bin Laden before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Some of the details of these secret ties have been known for decades, while others have only come to light in recent years.

Below are a few major events, or alleged events, in the ties between the countries:

1961 — After Morocco barred Jews from emigrating in 1959, the accession to the throne of King Hassan II enables a deal between him and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion for Israel to pay Morocco for every Jew Rabat allows to leave the country and come to Israel, marking the beginning of Operation Yachin.

Cheering reserve soldiers greet Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, center left, and Minister without Portfolio Menachem Begin in Sinai, at the end of the Six Day War, June 1967 (GPO)

In return, Israel reportedly provides Morocco with weapons and training for its security forces and intelligence operations.

1965 — Hassan II allows the Mossad to bug the meeting and private rooms of visiting Arab leaders, resulting in Jerusalem receiving crucial information that allegedly helps it stave off a simultaneous attack by three Arab armies two years later and defeat them in just six days. The recordings reveal not only that Arab ranks are split — heated arguments broke out, for example, between Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Jordan’s King Hussein — but that the Arab nations are ill-prepared for war. These details were exposed in 2016 by former IDF military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Shlomo Gazit in an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

Mehdi Ben Barka (Dutch national archives)

According to Ronen Bergman, an investigative journalist and military analyst for Yedioth Ahronoth and The New York Times, only a month later Morocco demands that Israel pay back the favor and help Rabat locate Mehdi Ben Barka, a political dissident in France who was regarded as an opposition leader. Israel had previously told Hassan II of a plot by Ben Barka to overthrow him, a plan in which the latter had asked the Mossad to take part. Instead, the Mossad helps the king locate Ben Barka and lures him to Paris, where Moroccan agents torture and kill him. According to some versions, Mossad agents then dispose of the body, which has never been found.

Bergman revealed these details in a 2018 book, “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations”. (More on the book here.) On Thursday, Bergman published a New York Times piece summarizing covert Israeli-Moroccan ties.

1977 — Morocco’s government serves as a key backchannel in peace talks between Israel and Egypt, with Rabat hosting secret meetings between advisers of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Those talks end with Israel’s first peace deal with an Arab state, leading Israel to persuade the US to provide military aid to Morocco, according to Bergman.

In this 1998 file photo made available on March 19, 2004, Osama bin Laden is seen at a news conference in Khost, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Mazhar Ali Khan, File)

1995 — Morocco’s intelligence tries unsuccessfully to help the Mossad assassinate Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader who would go on to direct the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, Bergman reports. Mossad tries to recruit bin Laden’s Moroccan secretary to locate him, but that doesn’t work out. Some details of the operation were published by Yedioth Ahronoth in 2006.

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