The Oldest U.S. Ally Has Turned Migrants into a Political Weapon
Morocco is like that neighbor you can get along with, as long as you don’t forget to smile a lot at the king and toast him on his holidays with alcohol-free Dom Pérignon Rosé Gold. If you are able to pay attention to such things, you could garner a crucial ally for the security of your country. The United States realized long ago that even the most corrupt government in Rabat could be more reliable than many European countries, and its oldest friendly treaty partner remains a key anti-terrorism ally in North Africa. Meanwhile, the nations of Europe oscillate between Atlantic passion and anti-American hatred every time there is a change of government. Spain, for example, was the best American ally during the period of José María Aznar’s government. And immediately afterwards, the worst ally when José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was in office. In Morocco, as Mohammed always rules ultimately, there is no risk of fluctuations.
All in all, Morocco is better as an ally than as a neighbor. Rabat knows very well that its superpower is to open or close the migratory tap from Africa to Europe. That alone is enough to bring the entire Old Continent to its knees. And it manages the times and the masses of immigrants with exasperating coolness, even though its decisions may compromise the lives of many people. What has happened in recent days is a good example of the fact that Morocco always seems to have the upper hand.
In less than 24 hours, eight thousand immigrants have illegally entered Spain, and therefore Europe. Most of them are young men, many of them “menas” (unaccompanied minors). On Monday, at dawn, the Moroccan border guards stopped guarding their border and the news circulated: The door to Spain is open. Thousands of immigrants literally jumped into the water to swim to the Spanish coast. This is the largest arrival of immigrants via breaststroke to Spain in history. Morocco has secured its border again, but the crisis is hardly passed.
Ceuta, a Spanish autonomous city located on the African shore of the Gibraltar Strait, is overflowing. The reception center for migrants, with a capacity of 512, has thousands at the door. Others are roaming the city, stoning Spanish police, mugging passers-by, or trying to occupy houses by force after dark. The police, who have received hardly any reinforcements, suggest locals avoid leaving their homes. Spain has deployed the army, too little, too late. Spain tried to buy Morocco’s cooperation by sending 30 million euros Tuesday to Rabat for border expenses, also too little and too late.
The question on everyone’s mind is: Why now? Relations with Rabat have been poor since last November, when the communist Pablo Iglesias, then vice-president of the Spanish government, used Twitter to call for a referendum in the Sahara, among other motions in support of the self-determination of the Saharawi people. A few weeks later, Trump signed a statement recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as part of the agreement to re-establish ties between Morocco and Israel.
Towards the end of April, Spanish-Moroccan relations were shaken when the government decided to give asylum, on humanitarian grounds, to the Polisario leader Brahim Ghali, sick with COVID-19, hiding him in a hospital in Logroño under a false identity. All this happened behind Morocco’s back. It was a real botched job and a diplomatic disaster. The Moroccan socialist leader Abdelhamid Jamahiri then warned that this could be considered an “act of war.”
Of course, nothing justifies Morocco’s reaction, putting thousands of lives at risk, sowing chaos, and blackmailing the Spanish government without any knowledge, as yet, of what they could be demanding in exchange for reestablishing control of their borders. But no one can claim that Rabat didn’t give fair warning to Spain, which had 10 days to try to resolve the conflict. First, on April 25, it sent a communiqué criticizing Spain for hosting “the leader of the Polisario separatist militias, prosecuted for serious war crimes and serious human rights violations.” And on May 8, it sent a straight-up threat, again ignored by Sanchez’s government: “The decision of the Spanish authorities not to notify their Moroccan counterparts of the arrival of the leader of the Polisario militias is not a simple omission. It is a premeditated act, a voluntary choice and a sovereign decision by Spain, which Morocco fully recognizes. It will draw all the consequences.”
Sanchez’s diplomatic skill, in his first major international crisis, can be likened to that of a drunken hippopotamus at the helm of a nuclear submarine. He arrives everywhere late, puts the spotlight where it should not be, creates serious security problems, and even today, in the midst of the crisis, spends more time criticizing Vox’s complaints about the arrival of uncontrolled “menas” than defending the Spaniards who are being invaded in their own homes.
Meanwhile, if you are wondering why the Spanish Foreign Minister, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, has been unable to pay attention to the storm that has been brewing in Morocco since last April 25. A headline in the Spanish press this Tuesday may give you an idea of how she spends her working hours: “Laya sends ambassadors a ‘priority’ memo on LGTBI special dates.”
Joe Biden’s appearance on the stage was tragicomic. Of all the possible days he could have chosen to call Mohammed and give Morocco a hug, he chose the worst: Tuesday, May 18, in the midst of the organized sending of thousands of immigrants to Spain. His declarations have not gone down well in Madrid, where the left was immersed in an erotic-political idyll with him, but in all honesty, and knowing his track record, I would not place any bets on Biden being aware of anything, It’s quite possible that he doesn’t even know that Morocco and Spain share a border.
So far, the Spanish army deployed on Tuesday has not exercised any deterrent role, but is limiting itself to humanitarian aid, saving several minors from drowning at the border crossing. Meanwhile, a few meters away, dozens of migrants isolated for having tested positive for COVID managed to leave in droves from the industrial building where they had been confined.
If the migratory crisis threatening Europe is limited to the Polisario issue, and the border was opened in simple retaliation, the solution does not seem so complicated. If, on the contrary, as some experts believe, Morocco is taking advantage of Sanchez’s weakness to test the waters for a real invasion of the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, then this week’s events are extremely serious.
Whatever the case, Rabat will not soon forget Sanchez’s clumsiness, nor will the Spaniards easily forget the images of the Moroccan guards opening the gate and inviting an angry mob of illegal immigrants to pass into Spain, minutes later trying to stone our policemen. Both countries seem to be competing for last place: Morocco stubborn in an inadmissible atrocity, and the social-communist government of Spain, determined to manage the crisis in the worst possible way.
Itxu Díaz is a Spanish journalist, political satirist, and author. He is a contributor to The Daily Beast, The Daily Caller, National Review, The American Conservative, the American Spectator, and Diario Las Américas in the United States, and a columnist for several Spanish magazines and newspapers. He was also an advisor to the Ministry for Education, Culture and Sports in Spain. Follow him on Twitter at @itxudiaz or visit his website www.itxudiaz.com.