Algeria says it was ‘targeted’ by Gantz’s visit to Morocco

Senate chief Salah Goudjil, second only to the president, says trip by Israel’s defense minister shows ‘enemies are mobilizing’ to undermine the country

Salah Goudjil speaks after being elected speaker of the upper house of parliament, or Senate, in Algiers, on February 24, 2021. (Fateh Guidoum/AP)
Salah Goudjil speaks after being elected speaker of the upper house of parliament, or Senate, in Algiers, on February 24, 2021. (Fateh Guidoum/AP)

A top Algerian official said on Thursday that Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s visit to neighboring Morocco, with which Algiers has cut diplomatic ties, “targeted” his country.

Gantz’s trip to Morocco this week comes amid tensions between Rabat and Algiers, which are embroiled in a standoff over the disputed Western Sahara.

“The enemies are mobilizing more and more to undermine Algeria,” which was “targeted” by the visit, said Senate President Salah Goudjil.

Goudjil is the most senior official in Algeria, after the president. He made the remarks a day after Gantz and Morocco’s minister in charge of defense administration, Abdellatif Loudiyi, signed a landmark security agreement in Rabat.

The deal would make it easier for Rabat to acquire hi-tech exports from Israel and is the latest move between the two countries that normalized ties last year.

Israel has several security accords with allied nations, but the Morocco deal marks the first-of-its-kind agreement with a majority-Arab nation, an Israeli official has said, on condition of anonymity.

According to Gantz’s office, the defense pact and the renewed ties are also expected to allow major arms deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years, though defense officials stress that this is not Israel’s primary focus.

A senior Israeli defense official denied reports in Israeli media that the two countries had already signed such arms sales. While Morocco has expressed interest in a number of Israeli systems — notably the Barak 8 missile defense system, drones from the Israeli Aerospace Industry, Elbit radar systems and more — those deals are only in their early stages and have not received the requisite authorizations.

“There will be projects and sales to come, but the defense minister did not approve and did not sign any deal during his stay. All of the big sales that have been discussed need to go through an approval and signing process. But I am optimistic that there will be. The Moroccans have many challenges in defending their borders, against missiles and in the area of drones, and we want to help them fight terror,” the official said Thursday.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) shakes hands with his Moroccan counterpart Abdellatif Loudiyi, after signing a memorandum of understanding between the two countries at the Moroccan Defense Ministry in Rabat, on November 24, 2021. (Defense Ministry)

Morocco controls most of Western Sahara and considers the former Spanish colony part of its sovereign territory. Algeria backs Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement.

Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco in August, citing “hostile actions” — a charge denied by Rabat — and Morocco’s recent rapprochement with Israel.

In announcing the move, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra also denounced “massive and systematic acts of espionage” by Morocco, a reference to allegations that the kingdom’s security services used the Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli NSO Group against its officials and citizenry, the official APS news agency reported at the time. Morocco adamantly denies such claims.

Earlier this month, Algiers accused Rabat of killing three Algerian civilians on a desert highway through the Polisario-held area of Western Sahara in a strike on their trucks, raising fears of an escalation.

Polisario head Brahim Ghali said last week that the movement had decided to step up military operations.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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