Crisis In Algeria And Morocco: Maximum Tension Between Historical Rivals

Crisis in Algeria and Morocco: maximum tension between historical rivals

It is not the first time that Algeria and Morocco have collided head-on in their still short history as independent states. In fact, frictions and disagreements are common elements of the quiet neighborhood rivalry that both maintain for the leadership of the Maghreb, even punctuated by violent episodes such as the one recorded in September 1963, when their respective armed forces fought in the so-called “war. de las arenas “, a specific border dispute that did not lead to any territorial change.

That is why it is not surprising that now, after the death denounced by Algeria of three of its citizens in an unconfirmed place about 30 kilometers from the Moroccan military wall in the occupied Sahara, drums are being heard again that some interpret as the prelude to an imminent conflagration. warlike.

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In any case, it is not the most likely. It is true that the tension has only increased, especially since Donald Trump decided, in December of last year, to support Rabat’s sovereignty thesis on Western Sahara. For Algiers, that was the signal that led him to alter a status quo of which it has not achieved any revenue for a long time.

The closure of the border between the two countries, which dates back to 1994 –after an accusation of mutual accusations about an attack in Marrakech, which cost the lives of four Spanish tourists–, has only served to fuel smuggling. But it has been of no use to the Sahrawis to change a course increasingly favorable to Rabat, nor to their main local ally (Algiers) to curb international favoritism towards Morocco as a regional leader.

Since then, and while the Polisario Front declared “total war” against Morocco in parallel – in November 2020 – Algiers decided on August 24 to break diplomatic relations with Rabat (as had already happened in 1975 and 1988) and, on September 22, closing its airspace to Moroccan aviation, measures with little real effect, but which symbolize the Algerian fed up with a neighbor whom it accuses of supporting the Islamist group Rashad and the Movement for Self-Determination of Kabyli a , which Algiers blames for the recent fires in the Tizi Ouzou region and for promoting the independence of that region.

To this would be added the Moroccan telephone espionage through the Pegasus system, of the Israeli company NSO Group, and, as a background, the criticism for the normalization of relations that Rabat has established with Israel, which it supports to once again be recognized as Observer member of the African Union (from which he was excluded in 2002). An Israel that, through the mouth of its Foreign Minister on the occasion of his first visit to Rabat in August, has presented Algeria as a regional threat and has signaled its growing rapprochement with Iran.

This accumulation of arguments, and the clear perception that none of them have served to dissuade Morocco from continuing in its quest to finally control Western Sahara and establish itself as a regional leader, while making the effort of Military modernization in which the Royal Armed Forces (FAR) are immersed – still below the Algerian People’s Army in combat power – is what has led Algiers to close the Maghreb Europe gas pipeline since last day 1.

The measure punishes its neighbor not only because it will cease to receive the income derived from the transit of gas to Spain and Portugal, but, above all, because it will cease to have the gas necessary for the operation of its two combined cycle plants that produced in around 10% of the country’s electricity.

At that point, Morocco is interested in adopting a low profile in the crisis, if only because to finish off effective control of the occupied Sahara, it does not want to disperse its forces to meet the challenge posed by Algeria, when it has not yet managed to close the crisis with Spain and has just received a slap in the face of the General Court of the European Union.

Also, Algiers, apart from the bombastic declarations of revenge for the death of the three truck drivers, may not be interested in going to the last consequences due to the international cost that it would have to bear at a time when its government lacks popular support and in the one that accumulates too many internal pending subjects. That does not mean that he also calculates that the Moroccan rearmament can end its current advantage in a decade and feel the temptation to exploit the crisis even more to silence the growing internal criticism for its ineffectiveness and its lack of democratization will.

In these circumstances, the very diminished forces of the Polisario Front appear as the asset that Algeria can activate to send a more forceful message to Morocco, receiving not only more permission to move, but also more means to be able to hit the FAR throughout the Wall.

None of this is good news for Spain. At the moment, we are already suffering the consequences of the closure of the gas pipeline, since, although it may be assumed that there will be no lack of supply, it will be necessary to pay for gas at higher prices. But it is also that, although the arms race of our two southern neighbors is explained by an internal Maghreb dynamic, it is inevitable that their rearmament will end up affecting our own defense plans. And even more so if they end up facing each other on the battlefield.

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