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First Israeli flights take off for Morocco

July 25, 2021

The first flights from Israel to Morocco have taken off from Tel Aviv, just months after both countries signed a normalization deal. Ties soured during the Palestinian intifada of 2000-2005.

An Israir Airbus A320 in flight
The flights are the first commercial air links between Israel and Morocco for at least two decadesImage: Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto/picture alliance

The first direct passenger flights from Israel to Morocco took off on Sunday, just six months after both countries signed a deal to deepen diplomatic ties.

More than 100 passengers departed from Tel Aviv to Marrakesh on board an Israir plane, the airline said in a statement.

As many as three flights a week are planned.

An El Al flight took off from Ben Gurion Airport at 11:35 a.m. local time (0835 UTC/GMT).

The airport's lounges were decorated in traditional Moroccan style for the event.

Israeli Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov said the new direct flights would "help advance fruitful tourism, trade and economic cooperation and diplomatic agreements between the two countries."

The move to bolster the relationship between Israel and Morocco came after a US-brokered normalization deal agreed under the Trump administration.

A one-off flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat carrying US diplomats and officials took place in December to celebrate the agreement.

The Marrakech Menara airport terminal
Sunday's flights were headed to the city of MarrakeshImage: Jason Langley/imageBROKER/picture alliance

Lapid to become first Israeli foreign minister to visit Morocco

Yair Lapid, the Israeli foreign minister, said on Monday that he plans to visit Morocco later this month once the air links had been restored.

"After my trip to Morocco, [Moroccan Foreign] Minister [Nasser] Bourita will come visit Israel to open missions here," he said.

Details of Lapid's visit are still to be confirmed, but it would be the first official trip to Morocco for an Israeli foreign minister.

Yair Lapid visits Brussels for talks with EU foreign ministers.
Yair Lapid looks set to become the first Israeli foreign minister to visit MoroccoImage: European Council/AA/picture alliance

What did the relationship between Israel and Morocco look like?

Morocco and Israel have never had full diplomatic relations, but Rabat did have a liaison office in Tel Aviv until 2000.

Ties were broken off during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, of 2000-2005.

Similar deals with signed between the Israeli government and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Aides close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have called the agreements "a betrayal" of the Palestinian cause, potentially scuppering the Middle East peace process.

"May you never be sold out by your "friends," the veteran Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi tweeted in reaction to the announcement of the pact with the United Arab Emirates.

Israel boosts ties as Berlin relations sour

The rapprochement between Israel and Morocco comes as relations sour between Rabat and Berlin.

Two months ago, Morocco recalled its ambassador to Germany, accusing the German government of "a destructive attitude on the issue of the Moroccan Sahara."

The term is used by Rabat to describe the disputed territory of Western Sahara that the US recognized as belonging to Morocco under former President Donald Trump.

Germany has so far refused to follow, suggesting talks at the UN to resolve the issue.

Western Sahara was previously occupied by Spain until 1975 when Morocco annexed the colony. 

The move triggered a war that year between the Moroccan government and the Sahrawi nationalist Polisario Front, which seeks self-determination for the territory.

jf/nm (AFP, AP)