Loyalty to friends comes at a price for Morocco

Loyalty to friends comes at a price for Morocco
Analysis: Rabat's motives for taking part in a Saudi-led assault on Yemen is being questioned following the downing of a Moroccan fighter jet.
3 min read
13 May, 2015
Morocco lost an F-16 jet over Yemen this weekend [AFP]
A downed fighter jet has revealed a little more about the Morocco's role in Yemen. It is not clear if the F-16 was shot down by rebel Houthi fighters or malfunctioned.

But the incident has shown that Morocco is an active participant in the Saudi-led military intervention against the Zaydi-Shia rebel group.

Missing in action

The pilot, Yassin Bahti, is still missing. The situation has led many to question the cost and usefulness Morocco in the coalition.

Others believe that Rabat's participation in the war is a  moral and strategic commitment to its allies in the region.

Morocco had six F-16s and a contingent of officers and soldiers in the UAE operations against the Islamic State  group in Iraq and Syria.

Rabat has has reiterated its full and absolute solidarity with Saudi Arabia, and pledged to defend it against any harm and to "protect the holy mosques".

"Morocco knew when it entered the war that it would be no  picnic, and that there would soon be losses in equipment and lives," said Ibrahim Asaidy, an assistant professor of international relations at Qatar University.

"The decision to participate in the war is the worst choice  a leader can make, because even if he wins this war, there  will be material and logistical losses, and regional, economic, and geopolitical consequences."
     Morocco knew when it entered the war that it would be no picnic.
Ibrahim Asaidy, assistant professor, Qatar University

He said that Morocco had agreed from the beginning to be part of the Saudi-led alliance, and that it was therefore prepared for the consequences in the war.

"No one can claim that Morocco could become involved in the war with zero setbacks and zero losses."

Although the war in Yemen is a distant battle,  the  kingdom has many strategic interests in the Gulf, Asaidy said. The Gulf, in turn, is in need of the Moroccan military for support.

"Morocco has no interests or investments in Yemen, but is  keen to support Gulf nations, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and hopes to use its participation in the war to its economic advantage." 

Paying the price

Hassan Benajeh, the leader of the Islamist justice and charity group in Morocco, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the complexity of the situation in Yemen should not be ignored.

"The war in Yemen is a war where multiple interests are intermixing, as well as conspiracies, and involves Iran and the US as well. It is the duty of people through their elected and legitimate institutions to understand wars based on [these] interests and hold those involved accountable," he said. 

"These wars will implicate the nation in destructive battles and strife, and will hold its future hostage."

Essam Ahmidan, a Moroccan policy analyst, believes that the kingdom is becoming embroiled in the wrong war.

"Instead of becoming involved in the war in Yemen, Morocco should have engaged all regional and international parties...  given its distance from the Middle East region."

Despite Rabat's distance from the theatres of conflict, many believe that Morocco's military involvement in the war against IS and the Houthis relates to domestic issues. 

In 2013, the late Saudi king, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, and Abu Dhabi crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, were said to have disuaded the US from allowing the UN to begin human rights monitoring in the Western Sahara.

Now, they say, Morocco is paying back the Gulf for their support, although the price may be high.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.