Kohavi to visit Morocco on Monday, in first official trip by Israeli military chief

Destination initially barred from publication, but gag order lifted after leak; last month Israeli officers observed a major drill in North African nation

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

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attends a  Aharai! Youth Program ceremony, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on June 17, 2022. (Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attends a Aharai! Youth Program ceremony, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on June 17, 2022. (Flash90)

Israel Defense Forces chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi will travel to Morocco on Monday, in a first-ever official trip by an Israeli military head to the north African nation.

On Friday, it was reported that Kohavi would make a visit to an Arab nation, but the specific destination was barred from publication by the military censor.  The order was lifted Saturday morning — apparently after several journalists strongly hinted at the country’s name on Twitter.

The reason for the original censorship of Kohavi’s trip destination was not immediately clear.

Official relations between Israel and Morocco, including on military-related matters, have ramped up in recent months.

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 ever.

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.

Illustrative: Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in Rabat, Morocco, November 24, 2021. The two countries normalized relations in December 2020. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

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

In March, senior Israeli military officials wrapped up a first official trip to Morocco, where the sides signed an accord that aimed to have the two militaries collaborate.

Last month, Israeli officers and Defense Ministry officials participated in a major military drill in Morocco, as observers.

Two Israeli officers are seen at the 2022 ‘African Lion’ drill held in Morocco and nearby nations, June 2022. (Royal Moroccan Armed Forces)

Earlier this year, Kohavi traveled to Bahrain on a first official trip. Also during that visit, Kohavi reportedly met with his Qatari counterpart, despite limited relations between the countries.

Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco normalized relations with Israel in 2020.

The UAE and Bahrain, meanwhile, have participated in several joint exercises with the Israeli military.

Since last year, after the two countries normalized ties, Jerusalem and Rabat have signed a number of memoranda of understanding on issues including civil aviation, petroleum drilling, water resource research and finance. The two countries also reopened their respective liaison offices, which had been shuttered after Morocco halted ties with Israel at the outset of the Second Intifada in 2000.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Morocco in August to officially open the Israeli Liaison Office in Rabat, as well as meet with officials and sign a series of agreements. The two countries plan to eventually convert these liaison offices into full embassies, though no specific date for that has been set.

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