The West is now more concerned about the threat posed by Iranian-made drones than only the conflict in Ukraine, especially in Africa. Moroccan officials recently expressed alarm about the drones being provided to the Polisario group, which is battling Moroccan soldiers in Western Sahara and is supported by Algeria.
And now, the British government at the highest level has formally acknowledged these concerns.
Western Sahara is a disputed region in the far south of Morocco that Spain abandoned in 1975. The Moroccans are currently working on a UN solution that would grant the region some autonomy in an effort to defuse the problem. It should be highlighted that the majority of nations support Rabat’s initiative.
Drone attacks, however, might halt all UN progress and transform the region back into a war zone, costing the Moroccans billions of dollars and halting the current 3 billion GBP in trade between the UK and Morocco.
Foreign Minister of the UK and friend of Morocco, James Cleverly, is becoming more and more alarmed by Iran’s actions, particularly its backing of the Polisario and its strong ties to Algeria. He recently recognized concerns raised by former Africa minister James Duddridge MP in the House of Commons on July 6th:
“May I ask the Foreign Secretary to look at Iran’s activities elsewhere? He has already mentioned the provision of Russian drones” asks Duddridge. “I hear rumours that Iran has also provided drones to the Polisario in southern Algeria, which could destabilise a very fragile peace with the Moroccans in Western Sahara”.
Cleverly’s response was more diplomatic and measured, but showed he was also concerned about the rumours of Iranian drones to such groups like the Polisario.
“My hon. Friend, who knows the continent of Africa and its politics incredibly well, is absolutely right to highlight the fact that Iranian malign activity is not restricted to its own near neighbourhood or, indeed, the United Kingdom” he says. “We look very carefully at the credible reporting of the support through military equipment not just to Russia in its attack against Ukraine, but to militia groups and other military groups in the region and across Africa. I can reassure him that we will take that into account”.
However, are the rumors founded on actual events or are they only online chitchat among Algerian commentators?
In truth, Iran and Algeria have long-standing diplomatic, economic, and military relations. Tehran has even acknowledged selling military drones to Algeria, albeit informally, which has stirred up some frenzy.
Omar Mansour, the former interior minister for Polisario, actually boasted that the group was receiving Iranian drones and would use them to attack Moroccan security forces last year.
The Polisario insurgents headquartered at the Tindouf refugee camp in Algeria have received military training and support from Iran via its Lebanese proxy militia Hezbollah, according to senior Moroccan officials. This assistance, which dates back to 2017, has long irritated Rabat.
Morocco severed diplomatic ties with Iran for the third time in May 2018 due to its backing of the Front. Iran seems to be stretching its muscles in the region recently thanks to a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia, which gives Iran some leeway, and increased foreign oil earnings (after US secondary sanctions failed).
Moroccan sources claim that Iran recently sent Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers to Algeria to help with Polisario rebels’ training.
The Defence Post reported that Moroccan officials gave information that showed how Algeria had made seldom utilized airstrips ideal for drone operations. These airstrips are located in remote regions of Algeria near the Moroccan border.
Officials from Morocco have also monitored air cargo shipments of military equipment from Iran to unidentified nations in North Africa. Drones, radar technology, and ballistic missile systems were all part of these shipments that were sent to Polisario forces via Algeria.