By David Bollero / blogs.publico.es/kaostica .- Spain reinforced the Moroccan arsenal in 2020 with the sale of mortar grenades, spare parts for mortar, plastic explosive, detonators, detonating cord and slow fuse, engines for armored vehicles, spare parts and consumables for the repair of tank chains and parts, pieces and Spanish-made spare parts for transport aircraft. At war with the Polisario Front since November 2020 after Mohamed VI had broken the ceasefire, Spain last year pocketed 12.5 million euros from these arms sales. However, Spanish weapons are not the only ones used in the war that is taking place in Western Sahara. Israeli cutting-edge technology also comes into play.
Relations between Morocco and Israel were officially reestablished last December, as a counterpart to the Trump Administration going against international law and recognizing the sovereignty of the Alawite kingdom over Western Sahara. However, unofficially these relations had already been taking place, both economically and diplomatically and, especially, militarily. This has been denounced in the Haaretz newspaper by Jonathan Hempel, an American Friends Service Committee investigator expert in Israeli military and security exports.
Although Israel barely publishes official information on its military and security exports, the Swedish research institute SIPRI in 2019 already ranked this country as the eighth largest arms exporter in the world. According to Hempel, already in the 70’s it is possible to find sales of tanks from Israel to Morocco – Israeli support for Morocco in its illegal occupation of Western Sahara in 1975 was key – relations having intensified in the last two decades. This is how it has been possible for the kingdom of Mohamed VI to take advantage of Israel’s cutting-edge military technology, all shrouded in secrecy and opacity. Hempel denounces how, according to a British report by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Israel sold military communications and control systems (such as radar systems for fighter jets) to Morocco through a third party.
These operations include the purchase in 2013 by Morocco of three Heron drones manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries in collaboration with one produced by Airbus Defense and Space, for $ 50 million. The agreement would have been definitively closed in 2014, through the French company Dassault and the destination of these drones is Western Sahara. The plans, according to Hempel, is to use these drones against the Saharawi population in the same way that Israel has been doing it for years against the Palestinian in Gaza.
In this sense, last April Sahrawi sources reported the murder of the head of the National Guard of the Polisario Front, Adaj el Bendir by a Moroccan air attack perpetrated with the help of one of these drones. French media Le Desk itself detailed how the drone marked the target using a laser beam so that later an F-16 fighter from the Moroccan Armed Forces would carry out the bombardment.
The three Herons (operated by France under the name Harfang) come from the French Air Force, after several years of service in Afghanistan, Libya, Niger and Mali, among others. These drones have a range of more than 50 hours and are equipped with optronic sensors (night vision) and radar, which allows missions to be executed at any time of the day or night in all weather conditions. In addition, the aircraft also have three surveillance cameras, a video recording system and an air-ground communication system. To the three Herons we must also add the purchase of ground stations, spare parts and support, something that if acquired first-hand could cost more than 150 million dollars, according to expert sources.
On the other hand, in 2017 Amnesty International already denounced how Morocco was making use of Pegasus, the spying software developed by the Israeli company NSO Group to track and collect information from journalists and Human Rights activists. One of the most public cases was that of the Moroccan journalist critical of the regime of Mohamed VI Omar Radi, who the authorities spied on for a whole year after hacking his mobile phone with NSO technology, ending up in prison for his publications on social networks.
Anyone opposed to Moroccan policies would be under surveillance, something that has even been denounced by the UN. In fact, recently the UN Special Rapporteur who examines the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, published a report a few weeks ago in which she denounced the Moroccan authorities for harassing and punishing activists “disproportionately” and journalists who demand respect for human rights in Western Sahara.