IRAN (OBSERVATORY) – Morocco will cut ties with Iran because of Tehran’s support for the Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara, Moroccan Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Nasser Bourita said on Tuesday.
Morocco declared Western Sahara its territory after the departure of Spanish colonialism, but the Polisario Front fought a guerrilla war for the independence of the Saharan people until a ceasefire agreement was reached in 1991 to be monitored by UN peacekeepers.
Berita told reporters Morocco would close its embassy in Tehran and the Iranian ambassador would be in Rabat.
He said Iran and its Lebanese ally, the Shiite Hezbollah group, supported the Polisario by training and arming its fighters through the Iranian embassy in Algeria.
“This decision came in response to the firm involvement of Iran through Hezbollah with the Polisario Front against national security and Morocco’s highest interests.”
“A Hezbollah official in the Iranian Embassy in Algeria was coordinating with the officials of Hezbollah and the Polisario Front, and this can not be without the knowledge of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
“Senior Hezbollah officials visited Tindouf (the headquarters of the Frente POLISARIO on Algerian territory) in 2016 to meet with Polisario military officials,” he said.
He confirmed that Hezbollah had sent SAM 9, SAM 11 and Strela surface-to-air missiles this month to the Polisario.
There was no immediate Iranian reaction to Morocco’s move or accusations. Iran has already supported the Polisario.
Hezbollah denied in a statement of training and arming the front and said Morocco had made its decision “under pressure from the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.”
Algeria hosts camps for displaced people from the conflict zone and Polisario members, but denies backing MILF militarily.
Boureita said he had just returned from Iran after being told by Morocco’s decision to cut ties. He added that the Moroccan ambassador to Tehran had already returned to the kingdom and that the Iranian charge d’affaires would be expelled on Tuesday immediately.
The Western Sahara region is effectively divided by a dirt cover separating an area controlled by Morocco and describing it as its southern provinces from Polisario-dominated territory, with a buffer zone between the two areas monitored by the United Nations.
Morocco cut off diplomatic ties with Iran in 2009, accusing it of questioning Sunni rule in predominantly Shi’ite Bahrain. The two countries gradually regained ties by 2014 but were never strong, with Rabat backing Saudi Arabia, the arch-rival of Tehran.