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Morocco said set to buy advanced drones from US following normalization news

Timing of progress on arms sale suggests a connection to Morocco’s decision to establish full ties with Israel

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

An MQ-9 drone. (Screen capture/YouTube)
An MQ-9 drone. (Screen capture/YouTube)

The US is on the verge of reaching an agreement with Morocco to sell the North African kingdom four advanced aerial drones, according to a report published hours after Rabat agreed to normalize relations with Israel.

Three sources with knowledge of the drone deal negotiations did not indicate to Reuters whether the sale was directly tied to the normalization announcement.

The US State Department has authorized the sale of the MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones, but it was unclear whether Washington would allow the UAVs to be exported with weapons attached, the report said.

Neither the State Department nor Morocco’s embassy in Washington immediately responded to a request for comment.

The drone sale can be blocked by Congress, and one source told Reuters that the Trump administration could notify the legislature as early as Friday. Congress is not expected to prevent the deal from going through, two sources said.

Even if the drone deal doesn’t go through, Morocco negotiated a major diplomatic win out of the US, convincing Washington to recognize Rabat’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region.

The timing of the drone sale to Morocco was conspicuously similar to that of the $23 billion US arms sale to the United Arab Emirates.

Israel and the UAE signed a US-brokered normalization deal in September. Within days, reports began sprouting of advanced negotiations toward the purchase of F-35 advanced fighter jets and Reaper drones, and less than two months later, the Trump administration formally notified Congress of its planned weapons sale to Abu Dhabi.

On the record, the three countries have insisted that the arms deal was not part of negotiations that brought about the so-called Abraham Accords.

But Trump officials have acknowledged that the agreement put Abu Dhabi in a better position to receive such advanced weaponry, and a source with direct knowledge of the talks told The Times of Israel that both the US and Israel knew that the arms deal was “very much part of the deal.”

On Wednesday, the US Senate voted to reject a pair of resolutions aimed at blocking the sale of 50 F-35s and 18 Reaper drones to the UAE, all but ensuring that the package will be able to move forward.

Because the transfer of such weapons takes years to come about, an incoming Biden administration could also block the deal, but there’s little precedent for a president to scrap such agreements made by a predecessor.

At the same time, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, told The Times of Israel days before the election that a Biden administration would have to “take a hard look” at the F-35 sale, due to concerns that it might threaten Israel’s military edge.

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