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Kohavi: 'I feel a sense of pride and admiration to meet you'

Between security briefings, IDF chief meets Jewish community in Marrakesh

In remarks after attending services at local synagogue, Kohavi highlights Israel-Morocco ‘special connection, shared heritage’ meets with locals who fought in Yom Kippur War

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi meets with members of the Moroccan Jewish community at the  Slat al-Azama Synagogue, July 20, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF chief Aviv Kohavi meets with members of the Moroccan Jewish community at the Slat al-Azama Synagogue, July 20, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Visiting IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi met with the local Jewish community in the Old City of Marrakesh on Wednesday ahead of security briefings with Morrocan air force officials.

Kohavi is the first Israeli army chief to make an official visit to Morocco.

On what was the third day of his tour, he made a stop at Marrakesh’s Jewish cemetery and attended a prayer service at the Slat al-Azama Synagogue, the army said in a statement, adding that Kohavi met with members of the community who fought in the Yom Kippur war and later returned to Morocco.

“Kohavi paid tribute to the community members and thanked them for their contribution to the Jewish people in both the State of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora,” the statement said.

“The Kingdom of Morocco is an ally of the State of Israel, and our bond constitutes an example of a deep and special connection between two nations based on a shared heritage. I feel a sense of pride and admiration to meet you, the Jewish community of Morocco, some of who fought for the State of Israel, and are today working here for the Jewish community and to deepen the connection with Israel,” Kohavi told representatives of the local community in remarks provided by the IDF.

Later, Kohavi and the head of the IDF’s Intelligence Research Division, Brig. Gen. Amit Saar met with the commander of the Ben Guerir Air Force Base, near the city of the same name.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi meets with a member of the Moroccan Jewish community at the Slat al-Azama Great Synagogue, July 20, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF said the two were “briefed by the base’s commander on the local UAV threat and received a presentation regarding the base’s F-16 Fighter Jet Squadron.”

“The commanders also discussed cooperation between the two militaries’ air forces,” the IDF added.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi meets with commander of the “Ben Guerir” Air Force Base in Morocco, July 20, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Tuesday morning Kohavi was greeted by Moroccan defense officials and an honor guard, after landing in the North African nation the previous evening.

He then met with Morocco’s Defense Minister Abdellatif Loudiyi, Royal Armed Forces chief Belkhir El Farouk, Intelligence Directorate head Brahim Hassani along with other senior defense officials.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi is greeted by an honor guard in Rabat, Morocco, July 19, 2022. (IDF)

Aside from Saar, Kohavi also traveled with the military’s international cooperation commander, Brig. Gen. Effie Defrin.

The delegation later visited the Moroccan army’s Paratroopers Brigade on Tuesday and spoke with unit commanders.

As Kohavi arrived in the country, a few dozen people held a protest in Rabat against the visit, raising banners and burning pictures of him.

Israel and Morocco established low-level diplomatic relations during the 1990s following Israel’s interim peace accords with the Palestinians, but those ties were suspended after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000.

A breakthrough took place 20 years later when the Trump administration agreed to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region in exchange for Rabat agreeing to normalize relations with Israel. Morocco was the third country to join what was dubbed as the Abraham Accords, following the leads of the UAE and Bahrain.

Despite opposition from some sectors of the Moroccan public, ties have continued to develop in the year and a half since.

Last November, Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed a memorandum of understanding with his Moroccan counterpart, the first such agreement between Israel and an Arab state.

The agreement formalized the defense ties between the two countries, allowing for smoother cooperation between their defense establishments and making it easier for Israel to sell arms to the North African kingdom.

With the signing of the MOU, the two countries’ defense ministries and militaries could more easily speak with one another and share intelligence, whereas before, such communication was only possible through their respective intelligence services.

In March, senior Israeli military officials wrapped up their first official trip to Morocco, where the sides signed an accord that aimed to have the two militaries collaborate, and last month, Israeli officers and Defense Ministry officials participated in a major military drill in Morocco as observers.

Earlier this year, Kohavi also traveled to Bahrain — also a first — and reportedly met with his Qatari counterpart, despite limited relations between the countries.

In Kohavi’s absence, Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi is carrying out the military chief’s responsibilities in Israel.

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