Iran arms Polisario Front, raising tensions with Morocco

Iran arms Polisario Front, raising tensions with Morocco

“La Revue Afrique” published a report on July 7th claiming that Iran had provided the Polisario Front with a new model of mortar shells that has never been used before by the separatist group, according to The Arab Weekly and agencies.

Tehran’s ongoing effort to arm the Polisario could be seen as the nation’s disregard for Morocco’s warnings against such an approach that could destabilise the Western Sahara and wider Maghreb.

Footage published by La Revue Afrique captures Polisario fighter firing HM-16 mortar shells for the first time, seeming to confirm Morocco’s accusations against Iran.

The German newspaper “Tages Spiegel” reaffirmed the findings of the report, stating that “the Iranian regime’s relationship with the Polisario Front continues to develop through Tehran supplying its members with surface-to-air missiles and supervising the training camps of the Front’s militants in Algeria in cooperation with the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.”

Some speculate that the Polisario front may expand the conflict with Morocco to gain more international notoriety.

READ: Elisabeth Myers: Will Labour scrap UK recognition of Moroccan Sahara?

Rabat has been pushing for the transfer of administrative, legislative, and judicial powers to residents in the Western Sahara, but it would remain under Moroccan sovereignty. In 2022, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez backed Morocco’s 2007 autonomy initiative, overturning decades of neutrality held by the desert territory’s former occupier, Spain.

Iran has received multiple warnings from Morocco with regards to supplying separatists in the region with arms and drones. Rabat claims that Hezbollah has provided training for Polisario leaders in Masarat, Algeria. Analysts view Iran’s actions as providing political cover for the separatists, further prolonging the conflict over the Western Sahara.

Morocco severed relations with Tehran in May 2018 over the latter’s support for the Polisario front. Nasser Bourita, Morocco’s Foreign Minister, stated at the time that “Lebanese Hezbollah, supported by Tehran, engaged in military ties with Polisario through the Iranian embassy in Algeria”.

Moroccan officials have told agencies that it holds detailed reports and satellite images of Hezbollah representatives and Polisario rebels meeting in Algeria.

READ: Algeria: Match off over Western Sahara shirt dispute

Hossein Amir-Abdollahain, the Iranian Foreign Minister who died in a helicopter crash in May earlier this year, stated in June 2023 that his country supported the normalisation of relations with Morocco. The kingdom maintains, however, that diplomatic reconciliation is only possible with the Islamic Republic’s support of Morocco’s autonomy initiative for the Western Sahara. In statements given to Arab Weekly, observers have noted that Moroccan authorities have given Iran the full opportunity to abandon its support for the Polisario Front.

The Polisario Front was established in 1973 with the aim of ousting the Spanish occupation of the Western Sahara through armed struggle. Two years later, the Spanish allowed for the partitioning of the territory between Morocco and Mauritania, the latter of which relinquished its claim to the area in 1979 after the Polisario Front waged a war against its new rulers.

The military campaign against Morocco came to a halt in the 1991 UN-brokered ceasefire. The Sahrawi nationalist group resumed the armed conflict in 2020, which continues to this day, demanding the complete withdrawal of Morocco from the Western Sahara.

The Arab Weekly and agencies


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