RABAT — Morocco is using its new ties with Israel to combat water and food insecurity. A recent example of the budding partnership was a letter of intent earlier this month to investigate algae in the Sahara region. The investigation will include Morocco’s Mohammed VI Polytechnic University UM6P and Israeli startups which focus on creating sustainable food solutions.
The Times of Israel reported that the startups are led by Israeli investment house Halman Aldubi Technologies, which produces fish food from municipal organic waste, insects, and algae. Such developments are vital for Morocco as it strives towards its goal to produce 350,000 tons of edible fish a year through aquaculture, up from its current 1,300 tons a year.
The announcement follows the partnership signed on Feb. 8 between Israeli AgriGo and Morocco’s National Agency for the Development of Aquaculture for an $11 million fish farm near Tangiers.
AgriGo uses nearshore and offshore marine cages to culture fish without removing them from the water. Israeli-developed technology means the farm runs on low energy and costs.
The news comes during political tensions between Morocco and the European Union (EU) over renewing the four-year fisheries agreement that expires on July 17. The current agreement allows 128 vessels from Europ to fish in the Moroccan Exclusive Economic Zone. Rabat is unwilling to proceed with the deal until the EU Court reveals the terms of the renewal.
Intissar Fakir, senior policy fellow and founding director of the North Africa and Sahel program at Middle East Institute, told Al-Monitor, “If the EU is not going to be the partner we [Morocco] want it to be, then who can we go to, to offset these kinds of disruptions. Having a variety of partners like Israel can make Morocco less vulnerable,”
Such deals and others, ranging from aviation to the defense industry, have resulted from the Abraham Accords in December 2020, a series of peace treaties normalizing diplomatic relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, facilitated by the United States. The agreement "creates a foothold for Israel in North Africa, as Morocco is the only Maghreb country that has signed the peace treaty with Israel,” Fakir said.
Besides aquaculture, Israel has shared its expertise in water desalination. Morocco faced its worst drought last year in over three decades, and removing salt from seawater is one way to reach water stability by 2030, Minister of Equipment and Water Nizar Baraka said during a Feb.15 forum in Morocco.
In Israel, five desalination plants supply nearly 80% of the country’s drinking water.
In November 2022, an agreement to collaborate on water desalination and reusing treated wastewater was signed between Morocco’s National Office of Electricity and Water (ONEE) and the National Water Company of the State of Israel. For Fakir, the countries' collaboration on water projects is an area to watch, highlighting their “aggressive plans and benchmarks for water desalination.”
In January 2022, ONEE announced plans for an $880 million desalination plant to supply Casablanca, Settat, Berrechid, Azemmour, and El Jadida with a total of 200 million cubic meters of water by 2026.
In January 2023, six international groups submitted bids to ONEE, including Israeli desalination specialist IDE Technologies, which is teaming up with Japan’s Mitsui. The two parties plan to form a consortium with two Moroccan construction companies. The winning bidders will be announced in May 2023.
However, Fakir pointed out that trade remains a modest element in the partnership. Trade increased to $63.9 million by June 2022, representing only a 1% rise compared to the same period in 2021, AAPI’s annual report read.
Researcher and policy fellow Hugh Lovatt from the European Council of Foreign Relations explained to Al-Monitor that “the bilateral relations can help the Moroccan economy, which is quite fragile, to say the least.” Through partnering with Israel, he said, Morocco can “have more leverage over Western actors.”
However, Palestine-Israel tensions are raising questions about how Morocco can support the Palestinian cause and continue business with Israel. In the future, Lovatt believes Morocco’s support for Palestine could cause diplomatic strain. However, he said, “it is possible to maintain strong economic ties,” since Morocco is also keen to gain Israel’s official support regarding the Western Sahara.