Will Tunisia be next? Why Algeria fears Israel normalisation is on the way
The Algerian establishment and political elite are showing noticeable concern at developments in Tunisia which could signal a normalisation of its neighbouring country's ties with Israel.
Successive statements by Tunisian officials hinting at the existence of plans for relations with Tel Aviv have grabbed the attention of Algerian officials and politicians.
Noureddine Taboubi, secretary-general of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), said at a conference of union leaders in Kairouan on 21 June that campaigns carried out on social media led by the "pro-Israel lobby and foreign intelligence agencies" aim to serve the "geopolitical interests of certain regional power blocs, which Tunisia today has become a part of".
The union leader added that these efforts have escalated following Morocco's normalisation deal with Israel "in an effort to subjugate Tunisia to normalisation in order to surround Algeria".
Tunisia denies communication with Israel
However, earlier in June, the Tunisian foreign ministry denied "rumours circulating in the media" that diplomatic communication was underway between Tunisia and Israel, with the foreign ministry emphasising that "Tunisia is not interested in establishing diplomatic ties with an occupying entity".
"From Algeria's point of view any further strengthening of Israel's influence in the region – or of the pro-normalisation bloc in the region – presents a clear threat to Algeria's national security"
It emphasised that Tunisia would "remain a source of support to our Palestinian brethren in their struggle both on an official and a popular level until their legitimate rights have been retrieved – first and foremost the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital".
Israeli news website Israel Hayom had previously claimed that Tunisia and Israel had opened diplomatic channels of communication with the aim of bringing the two countries closer together.
It quoted an Arabic news site, Rai Al-Youm, which had reported that the efforts underway faced opposition from Algeria which was "trying to thwart them".
Normalisation threatens Algeria's national security
On the Algerian side, anxiety over Tunisia's possible normalisation with Israel is tied to national and regional security concerns. From Algeria's point of view any further strengthening of Israel's influence in the region – or of the pro-normalisation bloc in the region – presents a clear threat to Algeria's national security.
This is especially the case after Moroccan normalisation with Israel and the ensuing series of political, security, and military agreements between Rabat and Tel Aviv.
If the bid to drag Tunisia towards normalisation succeeds to any extent, this will mean Algeria is blockaded on both its eastern and western borders, which explains Algeria's recent reservations regarding Tunisian president Kais Saied's policies and those of his supporters in the region.
An Algerian official (who spoke to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, on condition of anonymity) said that Algeria is wary of underlying indicators of normalisation in Tunisia, and of the "possibility that there is a regional vision for ways to drag Tunisia towards normalisation, which involves destroying the political situation and exploiting Tunisia's needs, and that the pro-normalisation axis is working quietly [to this end] and is happy to play the long game".
Pro-normalisation bloc willing to play the long game
A high-level Algerian source (who wished to remain anonymous) said: "We know the pro-normalisation bloc isn't hasty, because it realises Tunisia's circumstances and internal dynamics and other factors, so it is not rushing this issue. However, it is working to make sure Tunisia's internal conditions are conducive to normalisation".
"There are serious fears that Tunisia will move from the camp of those who adhere to the principle of defending the historical and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, to the normalisation camp"
"One factor [being focussed on] is that anti-normalisation forces, whether political, civil or social, shouldn't be in a position to avert normalisation when it happens, especially after 2024," the source added (Tunisia's next presidential elections will be held in 2024).
It is not just the Algerian establishment which is keeping a close eye on developments in Tunisia and watching for signs of normalisation – the Algerian elite and the country's political forces, including the opposition, are doing the same.
A spokesman from the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party – which make up the largest opposition bloc in Algeria's parliament - Nasser Hamdadouche expressed his reservations to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
"There are serious fears that Tunisia will move from the camp of those who adhere to the principle of defending the historical and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, to the normalisation camp, and these are genuine fears based on actual indications, and it doesn't take much intelligence or analysis to demonstrate there are upward trends in that".
Kais Saied and pro-normalisation forces
"It is clear that Kais Saied's government has fallen under the influence of France and the Arab states which have normalised with Israel, in that there is bargaining going on around normalisation and economic, security and food-security related questions for Tunisia right now," Nasser Hamdadouche.
"There are indicators, which Algeria is monitoring, which confirm that Tunisia is eager for normalisation, and we believe this is one factor stirring Algerian resentment against Saied, and which has prompted a shift in stance towards him".
He pointed out that "there is duplicity in Tunisian official discourse. For instance, Saied began his election campaign declaring that normalisation would be 'high treason', but there are leaks from Israeli ministers who say Tunisia is on the list of states next in line to normalise."
Meanwhile, "the former Tunisian foreign minister Khemaies Jhinaoui, the biggest cheerleader for normalisation, made clear statements [expressing support for normalisation] without him being condemned for 'high treason'".
Political analyst Dr Idriss Rebouh stated that Algerian fears, even if unexpressed on an official level, are based on a set of observations such as Tunisia's participation in recent meetings in Germany, which were dominated by NATO, and in the recent African Lion military exercises organised by the US and Morocco.
Both of these indicate, in his view, the gradual integration into a system in which Israel plays a central role. "There are active elites in Tunisia who have connections – this is documented but not circulated - in one way or another with certain circles with a normalisation agenda," he added.
"Enter into this context the highly pragmatic bent of Tunisia's ruling elite, plus the move of some Tunisian Jews to Israel, and the visits which are announced under the guise of being religious – but for which all the promotion and media coverage aims to prepare public opinion for the next stage, which is normalisation".
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.
Translated by Rose Chacko.
This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.
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