Iran and its allies in the region have hailed Algeria‘s recent diplomatic statements aimed at Morocco and Israel, while Israel strongly condemned them. The Algerian-Moroccan dispute never previously affected the conflict between the two Middle Eastern powers. However, Israel’s presence alongside Rabat at the heart of the Algerian-Moroccan escalation threatens to link the crisis between Rabat and Algiers with the ongoing Israel-Iran proxy war.
For now, official statements only confirmed Algeria’s “right” to retaliate, while pro-Iranian entities greatly praised the country’s diplomacy. For example, the Global Resistance Support group, aligned with Hezbollah in Lebanon, has publicly supported Algeria in its open battle with Rabat and Tel Aviv.
Morocco and Israel accuse Algeria of forming an “alliance with Iran.” Omar Zniber, the permanent representative of Morocco to the United Nations in Geneva, repeated an old accusation towards Algeria, namely the presence of Lebanese Hezbollah members in the refugee camps of Tindouf. As for the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, he criticized Algeria from Rabat, expressing his concern over the rapprochement of Algeria and Iran.
Algeria has presented these accusations as one of the justifications for the break in bilateral relations with Morocco.
Algeria has presented these accusations as one of the justifications for the break in bilateral relations with Morocco. Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra declared that “Never before has an Israeli official accused and threatened an Arab country from another Arab country,” and that “the Moroccan foreign minister was the main instigator of these Israeli accusations and threats.” Algeria believes that the Israeli and Moroccan accusations are aimed at “demonizing” the country by linking it to the axis of Tehran.
Algeria’s Historically Good Relations With Iran
The Algerian State is one of the few Arab countries to continue maintaining good relations with Iran. The two countries share close visions on many of the strategic issues that divide the region: Algeria supports the Palestinians’ demand to build a free and independent State and shares Iran’s position not to recognize the legitimacy of Israel. On the other hand, Iran supports the demands of the Polisario Front and does not recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
“The limits of this rapprochement are objective; they are linked to each country’s strategic interests. Iran and Algeria do not have the capacity to become extra-regional powers,” Professor of International Conflict at the University of Algiers Dris-Aït Hamadouche told Inside Arabia.
Iran’s main priorities are the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Gulf, and Southwest Asia, while Algeria is mainly interested in the Maghreb, the Sahel, and the northern Mediterranean, and aspires to a leadership role in Africa. Despite the aforementioned positions, Hamadouche sees no real cooperation, common front, or common measures taken by either country to form an alliance.
The discourse on the positive relations between the two countries is based on a long history of contacts. Algeria is the North African country with the most presence in Iranian politics since the 1970s, from the Algiers Agreement between Iraq and Iran on the partition of the Shatt al-Arab in 1975, to the Algiers Accords in 1981 between Iran and the United States, in the aftermath of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
During the 1990s, Algeria severed its relations with Iran, accusing the country of supporting the United Islamic Front fighting the Algerian military, but relations quickly resumed in 2000 with the end of the Algerian Civil War. They have even strengthened economically, while both countries maintained common orientations on several regional and international issues.
Additionally, Algeria has shown sympathy towards Syria’s Assad regime, a close ally of Iran. Algeria has opposed the Arab Leagues’ decision to grant Syria’s seat to anti-Assad regime opposition. Likewise, the country has been hostile to any military action in Syria. As for Hezbollah and Hamas, Algeria has opposed their names appearing on the list of terrorist groups within the League of Arab States.
Algeria has also publicly backed Iran’s ongoing nuclear program on numerous occasions. In 2008, Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia voiced Algeria’s support for Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear technology. Furthermore, Algeria supported the Iran nuclear deal, qualifying it as an important precedent in dealing with international crises.
Today, Iran is united with Algeria in its refusal to normalize relations with Israel, which is seen by both countries as a vital danger to their national security.
Today, Iran is united with Algeria in its refusal to normalize relations with Israel, which is seen by both countries as a vital danger to their national security. This year, Algeria fiercely opposed Israel’s accession to the African Union as an observer member.
Iran is now seeking to broaden its relations with Algeria because of its history of resistance to French colonialism, making it a moral ally for Iran, a country that prides itself in being anti-Western and anti-imperialist. In addition, a rapprochement with Algeria is a way for Iran to strengthen its presence in the Mediterranean, which, apart from its limited influence over Syrian ports, is virtually closed to the country.
Moreover, Iran has ambitions on the African continent and strives to extend its influence through its “Velayat-e faqih” (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist) ideology, which gives the right to the Supreme Leader to rule Shiite Muslims all over the world. This ideology is spreading in many African countries, especially through the Islamic movement in Nigeria. Therefore, Iran covets Algeria as a major African partner, which could legitimize Iranian impact on the continent.
According to Hasni Abidi, director of the Center for Research on the Arab World at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, Algeria is not seeking a strategic alliance or a more advanced partnership with Iran. Speaking to Inside Arabia, Abidi said that “Algeria is traditionally opposed to the strategy of alliances.”
While there is no internal resistance to consolidating relations with Iran, Abidi believes that Algerian officials do not want to provoke controversy over a strengthened relationship with Tehran that could be used by rival countries to isolate or weaken Algeria.
Iran provides political support to the Polisario which benefits Algeria, allowing it to shift the balance of power, especially in the context of Israeli support for Morocco in Western Sahara.
This does not mean that Algeria is not interested in enhancing its relations with Tehran up to a certain level. Iran provides political support to the Polisario which benefits Algeria, allowing it to shift the balance of power, especially in the context of Israeli support for Morocco in Western Sahara. Algeria, which already has a strong army, has an interest in keeping its options open to benefit from the support of other countries, notably China, Russia, and Israel’s enemy, Iran, if the tension continues to rise in the Maghreb.
According to Abidi, Israel is perceived as a direct threat to the security of Algeria because of the normalization of its relations with Morocco. Indeed, Algeria fears the direct presence of Israeli forces at its borders. The military deals between Tel Aviv and Rabat could give Morocco an advantage in the competition for leadership in North Africa. The French publication Africa Intelligence revealed that Rabat and Tel-Aviv are currently working on the development of a project to manufacture single-use drones, sometimes described as “kamikaze drones,” in Morocco.
Hamadouche told Inside Arabia that Israel’s presence on the Algerian border “is not really something new,” but, due to the official Moroccan-Israeli alliance, this threat has become clearer, closer, and more realistic than before. Thus, the “strong cooperation between Morocco and Israel in the fields of espionage, drones and military cooperation is likely to stir up suspicion in Algeria,” he added.
Anxious to keep a sovereign foreign policy, Algeria must maintain cordial relations with various world powers, including Russia, China, as well as Iran. Given its past dealings with Iran, Algeria could use balanced relations with Washington and Tehran to position itself as a potential future mediator between the two countries currently seeking an agreement.
The New Algerian Diplomacy
Last August, Algerian Prime Minister Ayman bin Abdulrahman attended the inauguration ceremony of Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi, as part of a working visit to Tehran. The Prime Minister told the Iranian President, that today, Algeria’s main challenge was to overcome economic problems, explaining why the country has every interest in developing ties with Iran.
Algeria and Iran both belong to OPEC and are going through similar economic circumstances due to falling oil prices in international markets during the Covid-19 pandemic. Although, recently, oil and gas prices have recovered and spiked to their highest levels in several years.
Hasni Abidi told Inside Arabia that the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ramtane Lamamra, “tries to promote a more offensive diplomacy,” noting that “Algerian President Tebboune is the opposite of the former Algerian president, who paralyzed the country’s foreign policy.” Abidi added, “Morocco, which invited Israel to this region, aims to create a new configuration in Africa and in the Arab world. Algiers fears these new imported alliances.”
Algeria seeks to carry out a balanced foreign policy that preserves its sovereignty and serves its interests. Iran and Algeria, in their desire for regional hegemony, both see Israel as a vital danger to their ambitions and their security. With the alliance between Morocco and Israel, strengthening bilateral cooperation becomes an important issue for both countries, which despite shared interests, do not seem ready to forge a true alliance.