Casablanca - Earlier this year, Jacob Cohen, a Moroccan-French Jewish writer known for his anti-Zionist writings, posted an article on his blog which caused a sensation in Morocco. He revealed that Andre Azoulay, a veteran royal counsellor to both former King Hassan II and his son Mohamed VI, is also employed as an Israeli spy. The article said 71-year-old Azoulay, who hails from a Jewish family from the southern town of Essaouira, was a key member of the Mossad’s sayanim organization, a worldwide network of non-Israeli Jewish operatives.
The Moroccan authorities did not officially comment on this delicate matter, and Azoulay issued no denial of the accusation. But the authorities responded indirectly by cancelling a conference that Cohen was scheduled to attend to discuss the subject of Muslim-Jewish coexistence in Morocco. This was widely seen as a bid to prevent any discussion of Cohen’s charge against Azoulay, or, more generally, of his recently-published book Spring of the Sayanim.
Cohen defines the sayanim as Diaspora Jews who, for “patriotic” reasons, arrange to collaborate with the Mossad or other Zionist agencies and provide them with assistance as required in their areas of expertise. The network was established in the 1950s and was used in many Israeli intelligence and propaganda operations, including the process of uprooting Jews from their communities around the world to turn them into colonizers in Palestine.
Before and after Operation Mural, the Moroccan monarchy profited handsomely from facilitating the uprooting of Moroccan Jews, especially after Hassan II assumed power in 1961. He oversaw the deals personally.
French author Agnes Bensimon detailed in her book Hassan II and the Jews how the Mossad initiated negotiations with Hassan II four months after the death of Mohamed V. The new king demanded payment of half a million dollars to facilitate the despatch of a first batch of 50,000 Jews, and the same for a subsequent batch. This had also been exposed by Simon Levy, one of the Moroccan Jews who resisted pressure to emigrate to Israel, who was a dissident during the reign of Hassan II and died two years ago.
Payments for the transfer of the Moroccan Jews were sent from Israel to secret bank accounts in Switzerland, reportedly in the king’s own name. But the monarch’s friend Ahmed Reda Kadira, who negotiated the deals on his behalf and was later appointed one of his advisors, was not left out of pocket. The proceeds helped finance his daily newspaper Les Phares, which served as the palace’s de facto mouthpiece and specialized in denouncing the king’s critics.
Israel’s penetration of the Moroccan royal court was not only geared to uprooting Moroccan Jews. The Mossad also sought to turn Hassan II politically and thwart any rapprochement between him and Egypt’s Gamal Abdul-Nasser.
The “War of the Sands” which broke out between Morocco and Algeria in 1963 provided the Israelis with their opportunity, after Abdul-Nasser sided with newly-liberated Algeria against the Moroccan attack on its territory.
Dealings between Rabat and Tel Aviv at the time were concluded via Tehran, under the shah of Iran’s auspices. But military cooperation between the two sides persisted. Israel is thought to have played a major role in the construction of the massive 2,600-kilometer security wall in Western Sahara designed to prevent attacks by the Polisario Front, which has been fighting for the territory’s independence since 1975.
Military cooperation soon led to intelligence cooperation, especially after Mossad chief Yitzhak Hofi arranged a secret meeting in Morocco in 1976 between Hassan II and Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin. The king’s subsequent collaboration with Israel has been widely documented by writers and dissidents. According to Egyptian writer Muhammad Hassanein Haikal in his book Kalam fis-Siyasa (Talking Politics) Hassan II even allowed the Mossad to bug the venues where Arab summits were held in Morocco. Hassan’s best-known role, however, was helping to broker the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal. Israel acknowledged its indebtedness to him: it issued a commemorative postage stamp to honor him after his death in 1999.
In return for the services of the Moroccan king, Israel and the Mossad placed themselves at his disposal, especially in terms of protecting him from his opponents. There was a clear Mossad hand in the abduction and murder of Morocco’s most famous dissident, Mahdi Ben-Barka, who disappeared in Paris in 1965. The Israelis are also thought to have alerted the king to several coup plots and other planned moves agains his rule in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Mossad is no longer known to be particularly active in Morocco these days. The country no longer plays an important role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Besides, the emergence of “rival” collaborators in the eastern part of the Arab world gave Israeli intelligence plenty of other intelligence partners to choose from and options to pursue.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.