Morocco cuts ties with Tehran, accusing Iran and Hezbollah of arming Polisario Front

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | May 2, 2018
Morocco cuts ties with Tehran, accusing Iran and Hezbollah of arming Polisario Front

The Moroccan government announced yesterday that it has severed its diplomatic relations with Iran over Tehran’s support for the Polisario Front, a separatist movement in Western Sahara, Iranian and Arab media reported. Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita alleged that Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah provide weapons and training to the Polisario Front. Rabat will shut down its embassy in Tehran and will also expel Iranian diplomats, including the Iranian ambassador, he added. Bourita made the announcement after returning from Tehran, where he reportedly informed his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif about Morocco’s decision to cut ties with the Islamic Republic. The top Moroccan diplomat told reporters that Iran used its embassy in Algiers to send an arms shipment to Polisario. “Hezbollah sent military officials to Polisario and provided the front with ... weapons and trained them on urban warfare,” Bourita added.

Bahram Qassemi, the spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, today rejected the Moroccan government’s allegations and emphasized that its diplomats have not provided support Polisario militants.

Comment: The Moroccan government considers Western Sahara an integral part of its territory. After Spain left the region, the Polisario movement fought against the Moroccan government for the independence of Western Sahara until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and created a buffer zone between the two sides in 1991.

It is not the first time that the Moroccan government accuses Iran of meddling in its internal affairs and undermining its security. Rabat has in the past alleged that Tehran supports Polisario and also seeks to disturb sectarian harmony in the North African country. According to reports in some Arab outlets, Iran pushes a “Shiite agenda” in Morocco by recruiting thousands of young Moroccans in cities such as Hasima, which last year witnessed anti-government protests.

According to al-Quds al-Araby, the Moroccan Interior Ministry last year released a report warning about Iranian activities aimed at promoting Shiite Islam and fueling unrest in the country. The report also noted that at least 40 Iranian-backed Shiite spies were stationed in Dar al-Bayda, 6,000 in Marrakesh, and hundreds more in the capital city of Rabat.

In 2009, Rabat severed diplomatic ties with Tehran accusing Iranian ambassador of seeking to promote Shiite Islam in the country. The decision was also aimed at voicing solidarity with Iran's Sunni Gulf rivals after an Iranian official questioned the sovereignty of Bahrain.

Unlike Iran’s Sunni-majority neighbors with sizable Shiite minorities – such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates – about 99 percent of Morocco’s population are Sunni Muslims and there is only a very small community of Shiite converts in the country. But Sunni Moroccan leaders say Iran’s efforts to convert Moroccan Muslims into Shiism will inflame sectarian strife in the country. Iran and Morocco began to improve their relations in 2014 and reestablished diplomatic relations in January last year.

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