Algeria, Morocco… Has the Time Come for Military Confrontation?

Algerian-Moroccan relations are heading towards further escalation after Algeria announced the immediate closure of its airspace to Moroccan aviation.  This move has been surprising and indicates that there is a new stage of tension between the two countries.

Observers believe that the current indicators put the diplomatic crisis between the two neighbors on the way of more complexity and political, and possibly, military escalation, especially after Algeria announced that it would take more escalatory decisions towards Morocco. Afterwards, it demanded the Zalmo border area to be evacuated, as Algerian military forces and an engineering team began to arrange restoring the area near the province of Figuig and cutting a Moroccan road that passes inside Algerian territory.

In light of the escalation that has not stopped in two months, after Algeria cut off diplomatic relations with Morocco, fears prevailed that the two countries would approach the edge of the abyss. This appeared in Ammar Blani’s statement, the official of the Maghreb countries file in the Algerian Foreign Ministry. “It is possible to take additional measures,” he said without specifying these measures. The matter that prompted observers to raise question marks about the tension line between the two neighbors, to where it can reach and whether the two countries would fall into a military confrontation?

“Immediate closure” Rushing into war

Commenting on the decision the immediate closure of Algerian airspace to all Moroccan civilian and military aircraft, as well as aircraft registered in Morocco, Othman Ben Taher, a researcher in Maghreb affairs, believes that it is not possible to comment on the Algerian decision without referring to a seemingly simple part, however, it suggests a lot, namely, the word “the immediate” as if it were a rush to war. “The tension between Morocco and Algeria is moving towards a dead-ended dark horizon,” the researcher notes.

Ben Taher considers that the recent rise in Algerian armament expenditures and holding military maneuvers on the borders, in addition to the recent change in the leadership of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces, demonstrates that the trust between the two countries no longer exists, and thus, each of the crisis factors has completed. This confirms, according to the Moroccan researcher, the possibility of a military confrontation in the near future.

It is noteworthy that, since Thursday, Algeria has sent forces from the gendarmerie and border guards accompanied by an engineering team to complete arrangements related to the restoring an area located within the Algerian border called “Zalmo”, which Algeria had previously turned a blind eye to and let it be exploited by the Moroccans

Morocco had also built a road linking the regions of Bouarfa and Errachidia, but the road deviates by kilometers inside the Algerian border at Zalmo point level.

Algerian media said that the Algerian border guards had informed the residents of the area to necessarily evacuate it. The engineering units razed four kilometers of the Moroccan road that passes inside Algerian territory.

It is worthy of mention that this is the second time that Algeria has restored an area located within its border strip in which Moroccan residents live. The first time was when omelette farms in the Figuig region were taken last March. The Algerian border guards back then informed the farmers to leave in two days and transfer their crops abroad.  The Moroccan authorities did not interfer at the time and no official comment was issued.

Nothing more than political escalation

Jamal Boujdia, a Moroccan journalist, rules out that the tension between the countries will reach military confrontations. He expects that the dispute will remain within the limits of political escalation.

Boujdia believes that going to war and military confrontation has a heavy cost that would degenerate the region to the stone ages. He indicates that the option of war in a flaming region is not controlled by the will of the Algerian authorities only, rather it is ruled by red lines imposed by major international powers that these authorities cannot transcend.

Moreover, he points out that these powers cannot allow tension come to the point of a military collision between Rabat and Algeria given its negative repercussions on the region which has growing security risks and terrorist threats, specifically in the Sahel and Sahara region. The effects this collision would have on the situation and security in Europe are also reasons for not allowing the dispute to go further.

Regarding the consequences of the Algerian decision to close the airspace to Moroccan planes, Boujdia opines that the decision will not harm Morocco’s tourism interests as much as it may harm the interests of travelers from the Algerian and Moroccan sides, who have family ties here and there.

He adds on that according to the civil aviation figures, 90 percent of the civil aviation traffic that roams the Algerian airspace is for Moroccan planes belonging to Royal Air Maroc or other private Moroccan companies. This clearly indicates that the economic loser from this uncalculated decision is the Algerian economy, supposing Algeria were to try to punish Morocco economically.

Observers believe that the decision reveals Algeria’s intention to continue to put pressure on Morocco after tying diplomatic relations with it and threatening not to renew the gas contract that gives Morocco the right to benefit from the passage of the Algerian gas pipeline towards Spain. Others, however, considered that the Algerian move came after Security information has been delivered.

Worrying Moroccan silence

Despite the internationally media aura caused by the Algerian decision, Rabat has not taken a move yet and remained still until the moment, except for the statement of a source at Royal Air Maroc to Reuters. This source highlighted that those 15 flights per week destined for Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt will be affected by the decision of closure.  Nevertheless, it described the impact of the closure on the company as not significant, adding that the relevant flights may change their course to pass over the Mediterranean.

With the Moroccan authorities keep being silent regarding the Algerian steps towards Rabat, no official Moroccan reaction will be issued given that the Kingdom considers the actions of its neighbor to be a process of escalation and provocation that is useless to respond to. On the other hand, a diplomatic source preferring not to disclose his identity has confirmed that Morocco will not respond the same to Algeria’s move regarding closing the airspace, but Moroccan analysts and politicians have criticized Algeria’s attitude towards its western neighbor.

Abdellatif Ouahbi, the Secretary-General of the Authenticity and Modernity Party, has announced that Morocco will deal with Algeria’s steps towards it with patience. He has noted that the Kingdom understands the internal problems that its eastern neighbor is witnessing, and that Morocco bears Algeria’s actions and will bear those future ones. Ouahbi has considered that the Algerian decision is a sovereign one, and Morocco will respect it, as the Algerian people will always remain an ally given their belief in the human ties that bring them together with the Moroccan people.

Khaled Wahrani, an Algerian political analyst, believes that the Moroccan official silence hides many questions behind it. He is stressing that this silence is only to win popular and international postures and absorb the Algerians’ anger.

Wahrani thinks that, in addition to a set of many political reasons, the recent developments have come immediately after it was revealed that Morocco had concluded cooperation agreements with Israel in the field of military cooperation to manufacture unmanned aircraft. Furthermore, Morocco built a military base near the Algerian border, which Algeria believes to be intended to spy under the supervision of Israeli security experts.

According to Wahrani, all of these factors are worrying, especially when taking into account what was announced by the Moroccan media about Rabat receiving a first order of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aircraft. Morocco had submitted an order to acquire 13 planes of this type, worth $70 million. The delivering company was Baker, a private Turkish company, which is run by one of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sons-in-law.

It is aged

It is notable that the tension between Rabat and Algeria is not spur of the moment, but rather an ongoing conflict since their first military clash in the War of the Sands in 1963 due to the border dispute over the Tindouf and Bechar regions, which were claimed by Morocco.

The relations between the two countries have become more complicated after Algeria announced its recognition and support for the Polisario Front in 1976, to which Rabat responded by breaking relations.

Relations between the two neighboring countries have also entered another phase of tension since January 1995, after Rabat accused Algeria of being involved in a terrorist bombing of Hôtel Atlas Asni in Marrakesh in December 1994. Algeria responded at the time by closing the land borders, and they are still closed Today.

In addition, Sahara file is considered the most prominent contentious issue between the two countries, as Rabat accuses Algeria of providing support to the Polisario Front, while Algeria considers the issue an international one.

Over the past months, the political and media tension between Algeria and Morocco has risen to an almost unprecedented degree, after the political statements made the relations between the two countries enter into a crisis stage. This crisis comes as a result of Algeria’s posture on opening consulates by African countries in Laayoune and Dakhla, the largest cities in the Sahara. The Moroccan army securing the Guerguerat border crossing between Morocco and Mauritania has also deteriorated the situation.

Omar Hilale, the Moroccan ambassador to the United Nations, has also made an assertion “independence of the Kabylia people in Algeria”, during the meeting of the Non-Aligned movement, on July 13 and 14, in response to the announcement by Ramtane Lamamra, the Algerian Foreign Minister, that his country supports the right to self-determination for the people of the Sahara. This signal from the Mroccan ambassador has made the two countries enter in a new crisis, especially after Algeria’s decision to recall its ambassador in Rabat.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s call, last July 30, to Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Algerian President, to work together as soon as he deems fit did not bear fruit in developing brotherly relations. The messages of reassurance to Algerian leaders thatevil and problems will never come to them from Morocco did not either contribute to opening a new page in the relations between Morocco and Algeria or closing the page on differences, as well as they did not lead to any improvement in the relations between the two neighboring countries.

The tension has returned and reached its climax after Algeria announced the severance of relations with Morocco, as a result of what it described as “hostile acts” of the Kingdom of Morocco and “the provocation that reached its peak.” The National Security Council in Algeria, headed by Tebboune, accused Morocco of supporting a separatist movement calling for the independence of the Kabylia region. Lamamra has also held the kingdom’s leaders responsible for the succession of crises that have been increasing in severity, considering this Moroccan behavior leads to conflict and confrontation instead of integration in the Maghreb region.

Contrarily, the Moroccan response to the Algerian decision has come through a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The Kingdom of Morocco was informed of the unilateral decision taken by the Algerian authorities to sever diplomatic relations,” said in the statement. “Morocco expresses its regret for this completely unjustified decision, and rejects the false, rather absurd, justifications on which the decision was based,” added.

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