Flags of Israel and Morocco
Flags of Israel and MoroccoiStock

Morocco in recent months has started to link the opening of an embassy in Tel Aviv to formal recognition by the Israeli government of its sovereignty in Western Sahara, four current and former Israeli officials directly involved in the issue told Barak Ravid of Axios on Wednesday.

Then-US President Donald Trump agreed to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara as part of the 2020 deal in which Morocco became the fourth Arab country to normalize ties with Israel.

The United States later adopted a new official map of Morocco that includes Western Sahara.

Morocco opened diplomatic liaison offices in Israel in lieu of embassies, but in January 2021, King Mohammed VI told Netanyahu in a call that he was committed to opening embassies as part of the next phase of the process.

According to the Axios report, during a visit to Morocco last June, then-Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked told local media that Israel recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry quickly walked back Shaked’s statement, saying “Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara is a positive development."

Several weeks later, according to Axios, then-Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar visited Morocco and said publicly that Western Sahara is part of Morocco. But the Foreign Ministry once again distanced itself from the statement and reiterated its more nuanced position.

Four current and former Israeli officials told Ravid that in recent months, Moroccan officials have demanded formal Israeli recognition of Western Sahara every time Israeli officials raised the issue of the liaison office upgrade.

So far, the Israeli government has decided not to engage on this issue, the Israeli officials said.

The Foreign Ministry believes the Moroccans are using the recognition issue as a pretext to not open a full embassy in Tel Aviv because of criticism back home, per the Israeli officials.

The Moroccan Foreign Ministry and the Moroccan liaison office in Tel Aviv did respond to a request for comment.