BEIRUT — Morocco and Israel are expected to sign a deal that would see the two countries co-produce kamikaze drones, according to a Moroccan military and security affairs expert with knowledge of the plans.
Israel’s defense minister is expected to visit the African country soon and sign defense cooperation agreements that would launch the drone production, among other efforts.
“After [the] new government formation in Morocco, it is expected that the Israeli defense minister will visit Rabat to ink a contract for the joint manufacture of defense equipment in Morocco,” Mohammad Shkeir, the military expert, told Defense News.
“The contract is to include short- and medium-range missile systems the Moroccan Army needs to strengthen its military arsenal, as well as armored vehicles and tanks that can be used in any armed conflict that might break out with Algeria or paralyze any Polisario [Front] movements along the Western Sahara wall,” Shkeir added, referring to the armed political organization that wants to end Moroccan control of the desert region.
This is not the first time Morocco has shown interested in unmanned aerial systems. In April, the country reportedly signed a deal to procure 13 Turkish Bayraktar TB2 combat drones, and the first batch was delivered in September.
“It is natural for Morocco to procure Turkish drones after their proven battle efficacy in several theaters of operations, whether in Iraq or Syria,” Shkeir said.
Asked whether Morocco’s separate orders for drones from Israel and Turkey will pose a problem for Rabat, Shkeir said: “Regardless of the regional rivalry between the two parties, Morocco can procure Turkish drones and can agree with Israel to manufacture drones, given the military alliance between the Hebrew and Moroccan states, as well as the military partnership that brings together the kingdom and the United States, which includes, the manufacture of military equipment in Morocco. In addition, Israel has achieved a technological advance with regard to the manufacture of this type of aircraft.”
Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan began normalizing relations with Israel last year under the American-engineered Abraham Accords.
It doesn’t appear a Moroccan company has been chosen to produce the Israeli drones, but Shkeir expects there will be a joint venture involving Moroccan parties and foreign parties, most likely American.
Shkeir added that four Israeli-made loitering munitions, the Hermes 900, were sent to Morocco, and they’re likely to be used to counter attacks along the Western Sahara Wall. Loitering munitions are also referred to as kamikaze drones because they can be used as weapons by crashing into a target.
That 2,720-kilometer wall separates the areas occupied by Morocco and those controlled by the Polisario Front in Western Sahara.
“If these drones prove their operational capabilities, then Morocco will start production. Within its military strategy, Morocco usually resorts to diversifying its equipment, similar to the diversification of its partners. Therefore, production will not be limited to one model of these drones, but rather it will include other forms for use in various military fields,” Shkeir said.
Morocco-based firm Bio Cellular Design Aeronautics has experience in producing drones. The company displayed the first prototype of the reconnaissance drone MA-1 at the 2018 Marrakech Air Show.
Agnes Helou is a Middle East correspondent for Defense News. Her interests include missile defense, cybersecurity, the interoperability of weapons systems and strategic issues in the Middle East and Gulf region.