Iranian actions fuel negative perceptions in Morocco
Iran’s suspicious behavior and interference in Morocco’s internal affairs have intensified the Arab decision-makers’ negative perceptions of Tehran and its regional interventions. Without major changes, it will be extremely difficult to change this impression.
Furthermore, over the four decades of gradually escalating tensions between Iran and Morocco, such perceptions have become normalized at the popular level, to the point where Iran is now widely viewed as a threat to state and society. As a result, despite Iran’s desire to repair relations, Morocco has remained committed to continuing with its severance of diplomatic relations, pursued since it withdrew its ambassador from Tehran in 2018.
The realities on the ground certainly do not appear to have changed in any way that might persuade Morocco to reconsider its tough position. Tehran is yet to abandon its interventionist foreign policy principles and ideologically driven objectives, which require it to play a central and leading role in the Islamic world. It also has not abandoned its efforts to gain regional dominance by interfering openly in the internal affairs of regional countries and endangering their sovereignty and the security of their societies.
Morocco has attempted to regulate Tehran’s behavior toward it through agreeing memorandums of understanding to enhance bilateral cooperation and coordination, mutual respect of sovereignty, maintenance of territorial integrity and noninterference in one another’s internal affairs. Despite these agreements, however, Iran has continued its hostile actions.
Consequently, the Moroccan position, sticking firmly to its decision on diplomatic severance, seems justified. Any other country confronted with the same situation as Morocco in regard to Iran would not have allowed Tehran to use its diplomatic apparatuses and the headquarters of its diplomatic missions as tools for interference, sabotage and tampering with the integrity of societal unity and religious belief. Iran has played a disruptive and destructive role in Morocco through its embassy, diplomatic headquarters and cultural centers. Furthermore, Iran attempted to entrap Iraq in this destructive gambit by exploiting and enlisting the Iraqi school in Rabat to spread sectarianism and implement and expand the Iranian ideological project.
Iran has devised a strategy to spread Shiism in the Maghreb, influence Moroccan society’s religious identity and gain religious and political influence, allowing it to expand its presence and increase its power, as well as to create a base of support, by converting the people’s loyalty to Tehran to serve its objectives and ambitions.
Moroccans scattered across Europe have also not managed to remain unscathed by Tehran’s sectarianism, with Iran carefully targeting them, taking advantage of their vulnerable situation in unfamiliar surroundings far from home. Some were inculcated and indoctrinated in such a way that their whole identities changed, turning them into loyal agents for Tehran in Europe and equipping them to serve as handy tools to pursue Iran’s malign agenda against their home nation. Morocco’s foreign minister has previously spoken out to condemn the role of the cultural attache at Tehran’s embassy in Rabat in targeting Moroccans in Europe and working to proselytize Shiism among them.
No country in the world is likely to allow any other nation to jeopardize its own sovereignty and territorial integrity. This was evident from Morocco’s tough stance toward Tehran, as well as from both the official and popular reactions following the revelation of Iran’s involvement in providing support and arms to the separatist Polisario Front via the Lebanese Hezbollah.
In addition, it has been revealed that the former Iranian cultural attache in Algeria, Amir Mousavi, and other Iranian diplomats working in the embassy in Algiers supervised the training of Polisario Front fighters. This military training included instructions on operating ground-to-air missiles at a military base in Tindouf, Algeria.
As a result of all this, Morocco decided to cut diplomatic ties with Iran in the summer of 2018. We are all aware of how sensitive the Western Sahara issue is for the Moroccan people and the country’s leadership, and that this subject is a non-negotiable red line.
In addition, Morocco refuses to allow its territory to become a launching pad for Iran’s subversive and destructive policies and illegal activities. Iran’s role in the Moroccan arena was laid bare by the exposure of a cell led by the Moroccan-Belgian citizen Ali Abdelkader Belliraj, who was accused of carrying out terror operations in Belgium in collaboration with Iran.
Moroccan officials are keenly aware of the Iranian desire to enhance its malign influence in the Moroccan arena and of the damaging role played by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah in the cross-border smuggling of weapons to conflict zones in Africa. These groups are also offering support for rebel outfits and carrying out illegal activities such as circumventing sanctions, smuggling funds and other activities related to Iran’s policy of resisting international pressure, sanctions and isolation. All these actions pose a threat to Morocco’s influence and status in Africa and contribute to fueling disputes and tensions in the neighborhood.
All this indicates that the disagreements between Morocco and Iran appear to be chronic and deep-seated. In addition to the hostile Iranian behavior toward Morocco, which threatens Moroccan unity, stability and territorial integrity, Iran’s activities also demonstrate the significant differences between the two countries on a number of international issues.
Also, Morocco’s commitment to the Arab sphere means Rabat is not alone in confronting Iran’s heinous behavior. In the face of Iran’s hostile behavior, the country can count on significant Arab support. For example, in March, the Arab League strongly rejected Iran’s arming of separatist elements that threaten Morocco’s security and stability. At the time, Rabat received special assistance from Saudi Arabia, which always stands by brotherly countries in the face of challenges and crises.
The impact of this supportive role can be seen in the Kingdom’s support for an Arab League resolution declaring solidarity with Morocco in the face of the Iranian regime and its ally Hezbollah’s interference in Morocco’s internal affairs, particularly in terms of arming and training separatists who threaten the country’s territorial integrity, security and stability.
Iran has played a disruptive and destructive role in Morocco through its embassy, diplomatic headquarters and cultural centers.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Without a doubt, Iran has failed to gain the trust of its brotherly country Morocco, which is regarded as a vitally important player in the Arab and Islamic spheres, as well as being a crucial transatlantic link and a corridor toward Europe. Iran has squandered a long string of opportunities to establish constructive relations with the Moroccan people and leadership due to its hostile and disruptive policies, which fail to adhere to the well-established international norms and criteria for regulating international relations.
As a result of all these factors, Morocco’s 2018 decision to cut ties with Iran is still in effect to this day. Through its own destructive acts and behaviors, Tehran continues to enhance the negative perceptions and impressions that now haunt it in every country it goes to. Long-suffering Morocco is only one of the many African, Arab and Islamic countries that now insist they will not open the door for any normalization of relations with Iran unless Tehran makes substantial changes to its policies and the patterns of its foreign relations.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami