Spy satellite to boost Morocco’s security capability
Morocco’s expected launch of a reconnaissance satellite may be worrying some of its neighbours but one expert said it was part of Rabat’s defence strategy to boost its surveillance capability against smuggling, illegal immigration and to tighten control of its borders.
“I see this as a defensive move by Morocco to strengthen its security by increasing its capacity to obtain intelligence about what is going on across its borders,” said James Farwell, an expert in communication strategy and cyber-warfare and a non-resident senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
“The idea that Morocco and Spain are somehow going to wind up in an armed conflict is extremely unlikely. Tensions rather rise on illegal immigration and smuggling,” Farwell said.
“Morocco has had a long concern about two main things: One is smuggling and the other one is the constant threat posed by terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State (ISIS).”
Morocco planned to launch its first French-built spy satellite from Kourou in French Guiana. A second satellite is to be launched in 2018. The French daily newspaper La Tribune reported that France sold Morocco the two satellites for nearly $600 million in a deal signed in April 2013 during former French President François Hollande’s visit to Morocco.
The North African kingdom will become the third country in Africa, after Egypt and South Africa, to have its own spy satellite. The two satellites can take up to 500 very high definition photographs a day and send them to a station near Rabat-Sale airport every six hours.
Morocco was a victim of terror attacks in Casablanca in 2003 and Marrakech in 2011 that killed a total of 50 people and injured dozens. Moroccan authorities have said they have dismantled 53 terrorist cells linked with ISIS since 2014.
Spain and Algeria expressed concerns that the satellites would give Morocco a military edge over them.
“Morocco is a friendly country, with which we maintain a very intense and fruitful cooperation, essential to stop clandestine immigration or prevent terrorist attacks but it is not pleasant that nobody, not even the friendliest, goes around snooping around the kitchen,” a Spanish military strategist told El Pais newspaper.
Algerian media reported that Morocco would be able to obtain information on military installations and troop movements of Algeria and the Polisario Front, an independence movement in Western Sahara backed by Algeria.
Rabat and Algiers have been at loggerheads for decades over Western Sahara, a territory disputed between Morocco and the Polisario Front. They have had frequent diplomatic rows and their land border has been closed since 1994.
“Morocco has differences with Algeria, which is supporting the Polisario Front,” Farwell said. “Morocco’s move is a defensive measure to deal with Western Sahara and Algeria but not an offensive measure.”
Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.