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June 18, 2018 No.
7528

Lebanese Columnist: Hizbullah's Actions In Morocco Are Part Of Its Role As A Tool Of Iran

On May 1, 2018, Morocco announced it was severing relations with Iran on the grounds that it and Hizbullah were aiding the Polisario, a movement acting to establish an independent state in the Western Sahara, in territory claimed by Morocco.[1] In a press conference, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said that Iran had extended military aid to the Polisario via the Iranian embassy in Algeria, and that Hizbullah had been training Polisario militants. He added that Morocco would soon close down its embassy in Tehran and expel the Iranian ambassador from Rabat, because Iran's actions were detrimental to Morocco's security and supreme interests.

According to Bourita, the ties between the Polisario and Hizbullah began in 2016, when a Committee for the Support of the Sahrawi People was established in Lebanon with Hizbullah sponsorship. Subsequently a Hizbullah military delegation visited the Polisaro training camps in Tindouf, Algeria. "The turning point," he said, "came in March 12, 2017, when [a Lebanese national], Qassem Muhammad Taj Al-Din, was arrested at the Casablanca airport on an international warrant for alleged fraud, money laundering and terrorist activities; he is a senior operative in Hizbullah's financing apparatus in Africa." Bourita added that "Hizbullah started threatening to take revenge [on Morocco] for that arrest, and dispatched arms to Tindouf, as well as military operatives to train the Polisario militants in waging guerilla warfare, forming commando units and planning violent operations against Morocco."[2]


Qassem Muhammad Taj Al-Din, Hizbullah's financier in Africa who was arrested in Morocco and extradited to the U.S. (image: sadaalwatan.com, March 31, 2017)

In an interview with the French magazine Jeune Afrique Bourita accused Algeria of hosting meetings between Hizbullah and Polisario representatives, in coordination with Iran. Several meetings took place in a secret location known to the Algerian security apparatuses, he said. He claimed further that the culture attaché at Iran's embassy in Algeria, Amir Moussavi, "known [to be in charge of] supervising the spread of Shi'a in the Arab world and in Africa," served as the liaison between Hizbullah, Algeria and the Polisario. Bourita added that he had given his Iranian counterpart Zarif the names of the Hizbullah officials who had participated in the meetings with the Polisario and had supervised the training and the building of training facilities, including Haidar Subhi Hadid, 'Ali Moussa Daqduq and Al-Hajj Abu Wael Zalzali."[3]

In an interview with Fox News, Bourita said that Morocco had received intelligence in April 2018 that Hizbullah had supplied the Polisario with SAM-11, SAM-9 and Strela surface to air missiles."[4] According to the Elaph Morocco website, the Hizbullah-Polisario cooperation had also included the excavation of tunnels and trenches in the Sahara.[5]

Iran, Hizbullah, Algeria and the Polisario, for their part, denied and condemned Morocco's allegations, calling them lies and irresponsible claims that are not supported by a single shred of evidence.[6]

Following reports about this affair, Khairallah Khairallah, a columnist for the Lebanese Al-Mustaqbal daily, wrote in support of the Moroccan position, stating that Iran was acting to spread its influence not only in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East but also in North Africa. He also blasted Hizbullah as a "sectarian militia" and a "division of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps" that is acting on Iranian orders and serving its interests, in complete disregard of the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese people.

The following are translated excerpts from his column:

"There is no need to stress that Morocco does not take any decision without examining the matter in depth. When it severed relations with Iran, it did so after comprehensive consideration, and after obtaining tangible proof that justified this sovereign decision, which can be described as [a move in] defense of [Morocco's] sovereignty and [in defense] of the soil of the homeland, including the Moroccan Sahara. That is what Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said when he explained the reasons for his country's decision to expel the Iranian ambassador from Rabat.

"Morocco knows exactly what it is doing. After accusing Hizbullah of training and arming the Polisario, it did not direct its response at Lebanon, being well aware of the sensitive situation in that helpless country. It directed its response at Iran, knowing full well that Hizbullah does nothing without orders from [Tehran]. It is no secret that Hizbullah is taking part in the war against the Syrian people for purely sectarian reasons. It is also deeply involved in [assisting] the Houthis in Yemen, and is active in Iraq, as well as in Bahrain, which is [another] kingdom it is acting to destabilize – and [all] this is just a drop in the ocean.

"Ultimately, Hizbullah is nothing but a sectarian militia and a division of Iran's Revolutionary Guards [Corps]. More explicitly, Hizbullah is a tool of Iran, inside and outside Lebanon, just as the Polisario is an Algerian tool. [Algeria] is using [this tool] in its war of attrition against Morocco, which regained its sovereignty over the [Western] Sahara in 1975 after the withdrawal of the Spanish imperialism.

"It should also be noted that Hizbullah could not train and arm the Polisario without the consent of Algeria and without a green light from Iran. More importantly, Morocco is well familiar with Iran's mode of operation in the region, even in the countries of North Africa, whereas Iran knows nothing about the character of the [North African] countries and societies. It thinks it can exploit the [Western] Sahara issue, which is a conflict between Morocco and Algeria alone, to infiltrate this region.

"Algeria is oblivious to the danger of Iran's actions, [although] it itself complains about sectarian [i.e., Shi'ite] activity within its borders that is directed from Tehran, and which is aimed against the Algerian people, the overwhelming majority of whom are Sunni. However, it seems that Algeria will happily tolerate anything that causes harm to Morocco. Algeria is suddenly pretending to have forgotten the extent of the danger it is in, and the extent of the Iranian threat to [its] national unity, considering the deep political crisis in the country. Hizbullah has become a welcome presence in Algeria, as long as its presence is directed against Morocco.

"Morocco severed relations with Iran in the past, in March 2009, for reasons involving Iran-directed sectarian [Shi'ite] activity within its borders. The relations were renewed in the fall of 2016, which means that the disconnect lasted seven years. Morocco [apparently] hoped that Iran had learned its lesson [and had realized that] the Moroccan authorities would not take lightly any activity undermining the national unity in [Morocco], most of whose citizens are Sunnis of the Maliki school. This time the severing of relations was due to a different factor, namely the Polisario, meaning Algeria. This happened after Algeria acted to build an infrastructure for the Polisario in the Moroccan Sahara, taking advantage of the Bir Lehlou demilitarized zone, which is under the oversight of the UN forces known as MINURSO...

"It is no secret that Iran is currently striving to obtain as many trump cards as possible, in order to use them in contexts that are known to all – for instance to show that it is a regional power that plans to expand from the Arabian Gulf across the Middle East, all the way to North Africa. It is also no secret that this Iranian activity is not confined to Morocco – which knew enough to restrain Iran at an early stage – but also exists in Algeria and Tunisia. Another [fact] that cannot be ignored is that, not so long ago, Iran engaged in sectarian activities in Egypt and Sudan [as well], using the Muslim Brotherhood in those countries...

"Iran does not understand that using the [Moroccan] Sahara and the Polisario will not help it to exert any kind of pressure on Morocco. If Iran and its proxies do not understand this, [they should recall] the 1980s, when [Libyan leader] Mu'ammar Al-Qaddafi helped the Polisario and did everything to involve himself in the war between Algeria and Morocco. But he soon backed down, after he realized there was no point in this, and that it was preferable to maintain natural ties with [Morocco], a kingdom that wishes no harm to anyone... Why doesn't Iran learn from the experience of Al-Qaddafi, who suddenly saw sense and realized there was no point in supporting the Polisario and other organizations of its ilk whose only use is to serve as tools for others?

"Morocco has done Lebanon and the Lebanese nothing but good, as evident from the history of the relations between the countries. So why is Hizbullah, which considers itself part of Lebanon, involved in a war against Morocco? That is a strange thing to do. But since when has Hizbullah considered the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese? Does it have any goal, other than to serve Iran...?"      

 

[1] The Polisario declared an independent state, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), on 27 February 1976. The SADR is recognized by 45 countries worldwide, among them Iran.

[2] Elaph.com, May 1, 2018.

[3] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 12, 2018;  Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 14, 2018.

[4] Foxnews.com, May 22, 2018.

[5] Elaphmorocco.com, May 5, 2018.

[6] Moqawama.org, May 2, 2018;  Al-Quds Al-Arabi (Dubai), May 15, 18; alahednews.com.lb, May 25, 2018.