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Benny Gantz (right) signs the agreement with Abdellatif Loudiyi. Photo: Ariel Hermony/Israeli Ministry of Defense

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed a defense cooperation agreement with Morocco on Wednesday during the first-ever public visit to the country by an Israeli defense minister.

Why it matters: Israel and Morocco had a secret defense, security and intelligence relationship for decades, but after establishing diplomatic relations, the countries are making it broader and more public.

  • A senior Israeli official tells me the Moroccans wanted to give Gantz’s visit a very high public profile to send a signal both to the U.S. and to Algeria.
  • The Biden administration has thus far signaled it has no intention of rolling back the dramatic step made by former President Donald Trump to secure the Israel-Morocco normalization deal: recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara.
  • But tensions are rising over that issue between Morocco and Algeria, which backs the Polisario Front that is fighting for an independent Western Sahara.

State of play: Relations between the North African rivals have gone from bad to worse since Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco last August over alleged "hostile actions" from Rabat.

  • In early November, Algeria blamed Morocco for an airstrike on a truck convoy that traveled from Mauritania to Algeria through an area of Western Sahara controlled by the Polisario rebels. Three Algerians were killed.

Driving the news: Gantz landed in Morocco on Tuesday night. In addition to signing the defense agreement alongside his counterpart Abdellatif Loudiyi, he visited a paratrooper unit and met with senior Moroccan defense and intelligence officials, including the military chief of staff.

  • Gantz also met with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, who arrived back in Morocco on Wednesday after a visit to Washington in which he met with Secretary of State Tony Blinken.
  • State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken and Bourita expressed strong support for the new UN envoy for Western Sahara and that Blinken considered Morocco's autonomy plan for the territory as "serious, credible and realistic."

What they're saying: While the Moroccans wanted to send signals to the U.S. and Algeria, "our message in this visit is strengthening the Abraham Accords and building a unified front in the region against Iran," the senior Israeli official said.

What to watch: The new defense cooperation agreement is expected to increase arms sales from Israel to Morocco. Israeli officials say they will focus mainly on defensive systems.

Go deeper

Nov 24, 2021 - World

Israeli diplomat: New regional alliances "keep the Iranians up at night"

Photo: Mazen Mahdi AFP via Getty

MANAMA, Bahrain — The diplomat who transitioned Israel's secret relationship with Bahrain into a public one tells Axios that Israel's burgeoning partnerships in the region "keep the Iranians up at night."

What he's saying: "The Iranians opened a front against us in Syria and Lebanon, but now when they look across the Gulf, they see us there with our allies very close to them," says Itay Tagner, the outgoing head of mission at the new Israeli Embassy in Bahrain, who previously led the secret Israeli diplomatic mission in Manama.

New report hits DOJ over lack of police shooting data

Demonstrations followed the shooting of Dijon Kizzee by Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies in 2020. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

A new government accountability report says the Department of Justice failed to consistently publish an annual summary of police excessive force data from 2016 to 2020, as required by federal law.

Why it matters: The data is crucial for the DOJ to monitor excessive force cases, and used to investigate law enforcement agencies with patterns of abuse. The DOJ can pivot off it to pursue court action to force reforms.

Congressional leaders clinch support for crucial defense bill, debt limit votes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer passes waiting reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress has found a shortcut to pass its annual defense funding bill and raise the debt limit.

Driving the news: The House will vote Tuesday night on two major bills — one creating a one-time, fast-track process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and another passing its annual defense bill.

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