On Wednesday, Algeria accused “Moroccan occupying forces in Western Sahara” of killing three of its citizens as they traveled from Nouakchott to Ouargla. This event fuels the ongoing escalation between the two North African rivals, whose origins go back to the Abrahamic Treaty, which in particular normalizes diplomatic relations between Israel and the Cherifi Kingdom. In return, Rabat gained American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
Week after week, tensions are growing between Morocco and Algeria. The two major powers in the Maghreb, which have maintained stormy neighborly relations for several years, took a new step on Wednesday, November 3, following serious allegations by the Algerian presidency against Rabat.
The official Algerian press agency APS released a press release in which the presidency revealed that “three Algerian citizens were swept away murdered by a barbaric bombardment of their trucks while making the Nouakchott-Ouargla connection”, a road connecting Mauritania with Algeria along Western Sahara.
“Several factors point to the fact that the Moroccan occupying forces in Western Sahara with sophisticated weapons have committed this cowardly assassination,” the text emphasizes, in which Algiers warns that “their killings will not go unpunished.”
The Moroccan authorities, for their part, made no official comments, while the Mauritanian army denied in a press release that such an attack was taking place on Mauritanian territory.
“A dangerous diplomatic game”
Even if we have to wait for all stakeholders to come up with clarifications, this event is part of the negative spiral in which the two countries are sinking, especially because of the difficult issue of Western Sahara. A spiral dating back to the end of August and the announcement of Algeria’s breach of its diplomatic relations with its Moroccan neighbor, which it accuses of “hostile acts”.
Charges, which were renewed on Sunday by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune when he ordered the public group Sonatrach not to renew the contract for the gas pipeline that runs through Morocco and supplies Spain with gas.
“There is undeniably a further degree in the increase in diplomatic tensions between the two regional powers,” notes Béligh Nabli, associate professor of public law, associate researcher at Ceri and author of ‘Geopolitics of the Mediterranean’ (Armand Colin, 2015). This diplomatic game is dangerous, it could well slip and get a military dimension in light of this type of incident. “
Donald Trumps game changer
For the experts, the “game changer”, the event that changed the game and which is therefore the cause of the aggravation of the situation, was the US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara. West, December 10, 2020.
Since 1963, Western Sahara has been considered a non-autonomous territory by the UN, while for more than 45 years it has been disputed between Rabat and the Sahrawi separatists, backed by Algeria.
The only territory on the African continent with an unresolved postcolonial status since Spain’s withdrawal in 1975, it is 80% controlled by Morocco, which rejects any solution other than autonomy under its sovereignty, and 20% by Morocco. Polisario Front, which calls for a referendum on self-determination. So far, all attempts to resolve the conflict have failed.
“The regional geostrategic balance has been disturbed by the Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty across Western Sahara,” said Nasser Weddady, a researcher and consultant specializing in the Middle East and North Africa, invited by the Arab antenna in France 24. This recognition came as a shock to all parties that needed some time to relocate. “
Donald Trump, whose decision, which at the time was described as a “historic position” by Rabat, had twisted the Polisario front and Algeria, announced the same day the normalization of relations between the Kingdom of Morocco and Israel.
And this, as other Arab countries had done within the framework of the so-called Abraham agreements, led by the White House. The issue of this normalization was raised in February 2020 during an official visit to Morocco by Mike Pompeo, then head of US diplomacy. At the time, Israeli media suggested that the Moroccans would be ready to take the plunge in return for support from Washington on the Western Sahara issue.
“The signing of the Abrahamic Agreement in the winter of 2020 certainly helped set the powder on fire,” Pierre Vermeren, Professor of Contemporary History of the Maghreb at the University of Paris I, recently explained to France 24 This multilateral agreement signed by Morocco, USA, Israel and the Gulf monarchy resulted in Washington’s recognition of the Moroccan character of the Sahara. For Algeria, this is clearly a casus belli. “
An opinion is shared by Béligh Nabli. “This transaction, a form of negotiation, between Morocco and the United States and Israel, on the one hand, was perceived in Algiers as a political aggression that launched a diplomatic spiral that led to a break in diplomatic relations between the two countries, on the initiative of the Algerians “, he emphasizes.
War, a “red line” for all actors?
As the rift between the two North African rivals worsens, given regional opposition, the risk of a military explosion appears to be limited for the time being.
“An informed Moroccan source”, quoted and presented thus by AFP, indicated on Wednesday, in response to the Algerian accusations, that “if Algeria wants war, Morocco will not have it”. And to add, lamenting the “unjustified accusations” against Rabat: “Morocco will not allow itself to be drawn into a war with Algeria.”
For Béligh Nabli, Morocco has no interest in entering a military spiral because the kingdom is in the process of “receiving diplomatic successes that are precisely nurturing Algerian inclinations”.
The most recent success to date came on October 29, with the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution extending the Minorso mission in Western Sahara by one year. The text, which also calls on “the parties (…) to refrain from any action that could undermine the negotiations led by the UN or further destabilize the situation in Western Sahara”, was hailed by Rabat as a victory, the Sheriff’s empire. given that this UN resolution responds to the “agitation of Morocco’s opponents”.
The Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for its part, indicated in a press release that “Algeria will not support this partial decision, which has the effect of confirming the exorbitant claims of the State of occupation. [le Maroc, NDLR]”.
“No actor is interested in escalating in the region, because no one is interested in starting a war, it is a red line for everyone,” concludes Nasser Weddady. “It is desirable that all actors in the conflict return to the political path in order to find a solution that can satisfy all parties, even if it seems impossible in the short term. “
That is what the experienced Italian diplomat Staffan de Mistura, the new UN envoy, must address, whose task it is to relaunch UN mediation since 1.eh November.