Lapid to visit Morocco in two weeks, in first for Israeli FM

After 20-year lull in relations, foreign minister to open mission in Rabat ahead of expected visit by Moroccan counterpart

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 25, 2021. (Lazar Berman/ Times of Israel)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 25, 2021. (Lazar Berman/ Times of Israel)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will be traveling to Morocco for an official visit on August 11-12, the Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel Wednesday.

The trip will be the first for an Israeli foreign minister.

Lapid will officially open up the Israeli diplomatic mission in the country.

The announcement came days after the first direct commercial flights between Israel and Morocco took off, seven months after the countries normalized diplomatic relations in a US-brokered deal.

While Jerusalem and Rabat did not in the past have full relations — with diplomatic offices in each other’s capitals instead of embassies — they maintained close official ties until Morocco suspended them with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000.

An Israeli diplomatic source said Sunday that the ties with the North African kingdom “will turn into full diplomatic relations.”

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita at a press conference after holding talks with his Spanish counterpart, in Rabat, Morocco, June 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

Israel and Morocco renewed their ties late last year, amid a wave of normalization agreements between Jerusalem and Arab countries.

Earlier this month, Lapid invited his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, to visit Israel.

“After my trip to Morocco, Minister Bourita will come visit Israel to open missions here,” Lapid said at a Yesh Atid faction meeting in the Knesset last week.

In late June, Lapid made a historic trip to the United Arab Emirates to open the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz was in Morocco three weeks ago and delivered Lapid’s written invitation during his meeting with Bourita.

Lapid stressed in his letter that restoring ties between Israel and Morocco was a historical milestone. Israel’s top diplomat also expressed his desire to make progress in bilateral cooperation in the fields of trade, technology, culture and tourism.

Alon Ushpiz, director general of the Foreign Ministry, signs the guest book at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V in Rabat, Morocco, July 7, 2021. (Courtesy)

In a statement, Lapid said the invitation showed that the establishment of diplomatic relations and direct connections between the two countries and their citizens was “a top priority” for Israel.

“I thank His Majesty, King Muhammad VI, for the leadership and inspiration he gave to the process,” Lapid said. “I look forward to strengthening the political ties between Israel and Morocco and to building economic, technological, cultural and tourism cooperation between the two countries.”

The comments came after Ushpiz visited the tombs of former Moroccan kings Mohammed V and his son King Hassan II, the current monarch’s father.

“We would like to thank the kings in Morocco… for their friendship and support of the Jews of Morocco throughout history, a legacy that his majesty King Mohammed VI is carrying on,” Ushpiz wrote in the guest book in both Hebrew and Arabic.

He added: “The tradition of tolerance and moderation that has been left to us and the next generations is an inspiration for the renewal of ties between Israel and Morocco.”

Israeli national security Adviser speaks to a press at the royal palace in Rabat, Morocco, December 22, 2020. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Also this month, a Moroccan air force plane touched down in Israel’s Hatzor Air Base, reportedly to take part in a multinational Israeli Air Force exercise later this month.

The highly unusual landing of the Royal Moroccan Air Force C-130 cargo plane at the Hatzor Air Base near Ashdod was visible on public flight-tracking software, where it was quickly spotted by a number of amateur radar watchers, one of whom shared the information with The Times of Israel.

Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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