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FLASH ALERT: ESCALATING TENSIONS BETWEEN MOROCCO AND ALGERIA

Team: AFRICOM

Week of: Monday, August 23, 2021


Closed border between Algeria and Morocco[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) AFRICOM TEAM is issuing a FLASH ALERT to the government, law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civilians in Morocco and Algeria regarding Algeria’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with Morocco. Given the increase of Algerian security forces on the western border, it is HIGHLY LIKELY that tensions will escalate and result in direct military clashes.[2] Such clashes will VERY LIKELY create displacements along the western border which will ALMOST CERTAINLY destabilize the whole region. Regionally active terrorist groups will LIKELY exploit this escalation to plan and carry out operations.


On Tuesday, August 24, 2021, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra announced that Algeria will sever diplomatic relations with Morocco mentioning “hostile actions,” including Morocco’s normalization of relations with Israel.[3] Morocco has yet to issue a statement, though King Mohammed VI called for improved relations in July 2021.[4] Consulates in both countries are planned to remain open. An external mediator will likely be needed to establish lines of communication as direct communication has been limited since last year.


Diplomatic relations between the two states were established in 1988, although the border has remained closed with fluctuating levels of securitization.[5] Morocco supports open borders; however, Algeria has remained adamant that the borders should be closed for security reasons.[6] It is likely that Algeria still perceives the Movement for the Self-determination of Kabylie (MAK) – which it believes is sponsored by Morocco – as a threat.


The wildfires in Algeria on August 10, 2021 were very likely a contributing factor to the termination of diplomatic relations. On August 19, Algeria announced it started reviewing its relation with Morocco after its perceived role in the forest fires that killed over 90 people, including Algerian soldiers.[7] The Algerian government thought the wildfires had criminal intent and were started by MAK.[8] Although Morocco offered aid to Algeria in fighting the wildfires, it is likely that Algeria strengthened border control as it deemed criminals exploited them. Criminals and armed groups take advantage of instability, and the adjusted resources of the state in times of crisis to cross borders illegally and further their operations.


The hostilities between the two states have almost certainly been amplified by Morocco’s normalization of relations with Israel, which began in 2020 during the Trump Administration and culminated with Morocco’s support of Israel’s observer status within the African Union.[9] It is highly likely Morocco chose to ameliorate its relations with Israel and the United States – which recognized its sovereignty in Western Sahara – over maintaining its already strained relationship with Algeria.[10] This development almost certainly provoked Algeria, who supports both Palestinians and the Polisario independence movement in Western Sahara. Moreover, the Algerian Foreign Minister accused Morocco of employing Pegasus Spyware, originally from Israel, to spy on Algerian officials.[11] Though Rabat has denied possessing the software, this accusation likely contributes to the mutual mistrust.[12]


Algeria’s decision has also likely been influenced by the expiration in October of the agreement allowing Algeria to transport gas to Europe through Morocco in the Maghreb-Europe Gas Pipeline.[13] The non-renewal of this agreement would almost certainly increase tensions as this would endanger significant Algerian revenue streams. However, it is likely that the severing of diplomatic relations will prevent effective negotiations from taking place prior to the expiration of the agreement. In addition, there is a HIGH risk that the airspace between Algeria and Morocco will become compromised. Commercial airlines will likely have to suspend flights between Morocco and Algeria if relations worsen.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) assesses that the threat of military skirmishes on the Algerian-Moroccan border following the announcement that diplomatic relations have been severed is HIGH. The AFRICOM Team recommends that the African Union, local governments, and civilians remain vigilant near the borders and in the Western Sahara which will likely continue to be subject to proxy violence. The risk of a humanitarian crisis will likely remain LOW if local and international authorities move quickly to re-establish lines of communication and prevent this from devolving into an open conflict. CTG further assesses that the risk of increased criminal activity in the region is HIGH, as it is likely that criminal and terrorist organizations will exploit grievances and the worsened relation between Algeria and Morocco. The AFRICOM Team advises international and regional cooperation must be prioritized to prevent this situation from worsening into direct military skirmishes. For the long term, AFRICOM recommends that the United States or another powerful international actor sponsors a summit between the two states in an effort to stabilize relations and establish a more effective diplomatic process between Algeria and Morocco.


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[1]Closed border invisible to Algeria, Morocco neighbours” by Magharebia licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Algeria to review Morocco relations after 'hostile acts,' France 24, August 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210818-algeria-to-review-morocco-relations-after-hostile-acts

[3] Algeria cuts diplomatic relations with Morocco, Reuters, August 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/algeria-says-cutting-diplomatic-ties-with-morocco-2021-08-24/

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Algeria Severs Diplomatic Ties with Rival Morocco, Bloomberg, August 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-24/algeria-severs-diplomatic-ties-with-morocco-minister-says

[8] Algeria to review Morocco relations after 'hostile acts,' France 24, August 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210818-algeria-to-review-morocco-relations-after-hostile-acts

[9] Algeria Severs Diplomatic Ties with Rival Morocco, Bloomberg, August 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-24/algeria-severs-diplomatic-ties-with-morocco-minister-says

[10] Algeria cuts diplomatic relations with Morocco, Reuters, August 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/algeria-says-cutting-diplomatic-ties-with-morocco-2021-08-24/

[11] Pegasus Lands in Africa, Foreign Policy, July 2021, https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/07/28/nso-pegasus-africa-morocco-rwanda/

[12] Ibid.

[13] Algeria to review Morocco relations after 'hostile acts,' France 24, August 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210818-algeria-to-review-morocco-relations-after-hostile-acts

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