A man walks past the embassy of Iran in Rabat. Morocco has moved to sever diplomatic ties with Iran over Tehran’s support for the militant outfit Polisario Front. Image Credit: AP

Manama: Bahrain said it fully supported Morocco’s decision to sever its relations with Iran following the proven military support of its ally Hezbollah for the Polisario Front against the national security and the higher interests of the North African kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has also expressed their support of the Moroccan decision.

In Manama, Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa stated to Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Nasser Bourita “Bahrain’s support for Morocco’s decision” and stressed that “Iran is providing support and funding for the enemies of Morocco and the Arab nation, which requires collective Arab stances and actions to confront all forms of Iranian interference in the internal affairs of the Arab states and stop Iran’s attempts to threaten Arab security and to spread violence and chaos in the region,” the foreign ministry posted.

Shaikh Khalid affirmed Bahrain’s support of the Moroccan initiative regarding the autonomy of Western Sahara in a framework that preserves Moroccan integrity and unity according to international legitimacy, the ministry added.

In Riyadh, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson expressed “Saudi Arabia’s stand by the sisterly Kingdom of Morocco in all that threatens its security, stability and territorial integrity.”

“The Saudi government strongly condemns the Iranian interference in Morocco’s internal affairs through its tool, Hezbollah’s terrorist militia, which is training the elements of the so-called Polisario in order to undermine security and stability in Morocco,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) late on Tuesday.

The UAE, meanwhile, affirmed its full solidarity with Morocco in confronting all threats to its security, safety and stability.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said that the UAE strongly condemns Iran’s intervention in the internal affairs of Morocco through the Hezbollah’s terrorist militias, which are training the elements of the so-called “Polisario” group in order to destabilise the security and stability in the sisterly Kingdom of Morocco.

The statement said that the UAE stands by the Kingdom in any action it takes to ensure its security and stability, including any decisive decision it takes regarding Iranian interventions.

On his part, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, tweeted: “We stand with Morocco in its keenness on its national issues and against Iranian interference in its internal affairs.”

Morocco and the Polisario fought for control of Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991, with Rabat taking over the desert territory before a UN-brokered ceasefire in the former Spanish colony.

In Rabat, Bourita on Tuesday said that he would ask the chargé d’affaires at the Iranian embassy to leave Morocco “without delay”.

The Moroccan ambassador to Iran had left Tehran.

“I have just returned from the Islamic Republic of Iran, where I had a meeting with Iranian minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Javad Zarif. I informed him of the decision of the Kingdom of Morocco to break off its diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the minister told the press, the Moroccan news agency reported.

The decision to sever relations is a “reaction to a confirmed involvement of Iran through Hezbollah, and everyone knows its link with Iran, in an alliance with the Polisario against national security and the higher interests of the Kingdom.”

“The Kingdom has irrefutable evidence, identified names and specific facts that corroborate this complicity between the Polisario and Hezbollah against the higher interests of Morocco,” Bourita was quoted as saying by the official news agency.

Morocco severed its relations with Iran in 2009 and resumed them in 2014, appointing a chargé d’affaires in Tehran in 2015 and an ambassador in 2016.

Relations between the Polisario and Hezbollah were not new, but gained in scope and visibility starting March 2017, the minister said.

“In 2016, a committee of support for the Sahrawi people was set up for the first time in Lebanon, thanks to the protection of Hezbollah. In the same year, Hezbollah senior leaders visited the Tindouf camps to meet Polisario military officials. The tipping point and most important element that changed the nature of the relationship between the Polisario and Hezbollah was the arrest at Casablanca’s Mohammed V international airport on March 12, 2017 of Kacem Mohammad Tajeddine, one of Hezbollah’s major financiers operating in Africa,” Bourita said.

Tajeddine was arrested based an international arrest warrant issued by the US for money laundering and membership of a terrorist organization, he said.

“From that moment on, Hezbollah threatened revenge and began to strengthen its relationship with the Polisario against Morocco, adding that bombers and military cadres were sent to Tindouf to train elements of the Polisario on urban guerrilla warfare and to train commandos in order to carry out sabotage actions against Morocco. In April, a first delivery of weapons was provided to Polisario armed militias by Hezbollah leaders, notably Sam 9 and Sam 11,” he said.

Bourita said that at least one member of the Iranian embassy in Algiers was involved in the organisation of the operations.

“The involvement of a member of the embassy holding an Iranian diplomatic passport who works at the Iranian embassy in Algiers was the key element to facilitate contacts and meetings and provide all logistical facilities for senior officials, including Hezbollah military ones, to travel to Tindouf and meet Polisario officials,” he said.

“Such a strategic decision to militarily support the Polisario cannot be taken without the coordination, or even consent, of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It was not just a meeting or a statement, but two years of cooperation, two years of visits through the Iranian embassy in Algiers. We believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot be alien to all this preparation.”

Bourita said Morocco could not accept “that a country trains commandos and people in urban guerrilla warfare, delivers weapons, militarily trains and supervises the Polisario elements.

“The decision to sever ties is not against the Lebanese and Iranian peoples, but rather a reaction against unacceptable actions carried out by Hezbollah with the blessing, if not more, of Iran.”

“Morocco is not used to taking this kind of decisions easily and that is why we have taken a lot of time to cross-check the information, to verify every data, every date, every meeting, and when we have had enough elements, indications and evidence that things are being prepared to threaten Morocco’s national security and the security of Moroccan citizens, Morocco has taken this decision. First of all, we wanted to confront Iran with this, that’s what I did this morning. We have not received a response that calls into question the elements in our possession and that is why Rabat took the decision to break off diplomatic relations with Tehran.”

Bourita said that more specific elements had been shared by the Moroccan services with their partners in other countries.