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Gantz heading to Morocco next week, will sign defense deal

Defense minister expected to meet with his counterpart and with Moroccan foreign minister close to a year after normalization agreement signed between Rabat and Jerusalem

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a memorial ceremony for Israeli soldiers killed in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, at the National Hall of Remembrance at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a memorial ceremony for Israeli soldiers killed in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, at the National Hall of Remembrance at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Amid burgeoning relations between Jerusalem and Rabat following the normalization agreement to establish diplomatic relations last year, Defense Minister Benny Gantz will pay a visit to Morocco next week, his office said Monday.

Gantz is expected to sign a defense deal with Rabat during his visit, and to meet with his counterpart and with the Moroccan foreign minister.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Morocco in August to officially open up the Israeli Liaison Office in Rabat as well as meet with officials and sign a series of agreements.

In September, Morocco’s national carrier Royal Air Maroc said it would start regular direct flights to Israel.

The service linking the countries’ respective commercial capitals Casablanca and Tel Aviv will take off on December 12, two days after the first anniversary of Morocco’s “resumption of relations” with Israel under a deal brokered by the previous United States administration.

The airline said it would offer three flights per week, and would later be moving to five.

A Royal Air Maroc airplane approaching for landing at Lisbon airport flies past the Monument to the Heroes of the Peninsular War, in the foreground, on August 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Morocco’s normalization of ties with Israel followed similar announcements by a string of other Arab countries starting with the United Arab Emirates, in deals brokered by former US president Donald Trump’s administration.

In return, Washington recognized the kingdom’s sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Morocco’s ancient Jewish community is the biggest in North Africa, with some 3,000 still living in the kingdom.

A further 700,000 Israelis are descended from Moroccans and have kept strong links with the country.

Before the coronavirus pandemic and the normalization deal, tens of thousands of Israeli tourists visiting Morocco each year had to pass through a third country.

Morocco and Israel previously established ties in 1993, but Morocco had broken them off at the start of the Second Intifada in 2000.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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