Morocco-Israel: Why the kingdom is buying a missile defence system

By Nina Kozlowski
Posted on Wednesday, 16 February 2022 15:57

The Barak MX defence system achieved a 100% success rate in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2020 between Armenia and Azerbaijan against Russian Iskander missiles. © DR

Less than three months after Israel’s defence minister Benny Gantz visited Rabat, the Moroccan army has decided to acquire the Barak MX defence system.

In Israeli defence circles, this is perceived to be a “very big transaction”. The Forces Armées Royales Marocaines (FAR) will pay $500m to acquire the Barak MX air and missile defence system, which was manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the market’s world leader.

The deal dates back to when Benny Gantz, Israel’s defence minister, visited Rabat on 24 and 25 November.

This was a historic and unprecedented visit, which led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding on defence cooperation. Behind the scenes, the Moroccan authorities took advantage of the occasion to express their desire to acquire a defensive system, before finding out about the various options.

In the wake of this, IAI’s CEO Boaz Levy is said to have made one or more discreet visits to Morocco to present the famous Barak MX system. The visits were greatly facilitated by Amir Peretz, an Israeli politician born in Boujad, Morocco, who was appointed chairman of the IAI Board of Directors in November.

Latent conflict

In practical terms, the Barak MX missile defence system is capable of protecting against a range of threats: from missiles to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), intercepting them at distances between 35.70 to 150km. In addition, the Israeli press describes it as “flexible and modular,” a description that would have appealed to FAR.

[…] all the other equipment that Morocco has purchased could be […] weapons of dissuasion, psychological weapons.

Above all, Barak MX is much cheaper than the US Patriot defence system, which the US tried to sell to Sweden for $3.2bn in 2018.

Another important argument is that Barak MX had a 100% success rate in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan against Russian Iskander missiles in 2020. This type of missile is also used by Algeria, which has been in a latent conflict with the kingdom for several months.

Morocco has already purchased several pieces of equipment from the Israelis. These include Heron and Bluebird drones from IAI, robotic patrol vehicle systems from Elbit Systems and Skylock drone interceptors (Avnon Group).

However, some actors who are very involved in the Israeli defence market and close to Gantz are surprised that Morocco is purchasing such a sophisticated system, given that it is not currently engaged in open conflict.

“The current global trend indicates that military interventions are being replaced by much cheaper cold wars. In this sense, the Barak MX system and all the other equipment that Morocco has purchased could be, above all, weapons of dissuasion, psychological weapons,” says an Israeli observer.

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