The news that the Moroccan King Hassan II allowed the Mossad to listen in on conversations at the Arab League summit in Casablanca in 1965, thus ‘helping Israel to win the Six-Day War, is in fact an old story. The ‘revelations’ by Shlomo Gazit, ex-chief of Military Intelligence, broken by Yediot Aharonot and carried by other news media have been common knowledge for decades.
The Economist carried this obituary for King Hassan, who died in July 1999. It called him a ‘ruthless manipulator’:
Queen Elizabeth on her official visit to Morocco: king Hassan was an hour late to dinner (Photo:Hilton)
“He was less polite to European monarchs, perhaps because they have little power, and turned up nearly an hour late to dine with Queen Elizabeth when she visited Morocco in 1980. But where he considered it mattered, King Hassan was a dab hand at manipulating western opinion.
On independence from France in 1956, Morocco had 350,000 Jews, a large and influential minority. Within two decades nearly all had been exported*, most to Israel, under covert agreement with that country. King Hassan used the few Jews who remained to sell his kingdom as an oasis of pluralism amid the climate of Arab intolerance, a fancy lapped up by pro-Israel lobbies in Washington and Paris. Having earned trust in Israel, he was often able to act as a go-between for other Arab countries.
European dignitaries, plus a present and past American president, came to his funeral to hail him as a peacemaker. But his relationship with Israel was less about peace than the elimination of mutual foes. Israel’s secret service, the Mossad, helped the king to abduct his former maths teacher and leftist opponent, Mehdi Ben Barka, in a Paris café in 1965, and subsequently kill him.
Israel and the United States supplied the tanks to crush the Polisario Front, a guerrilla force struggling for independence in Western Sahara. United Nations officials say the defensive sand walls in Western Sahara bear remarkable similarity to the Bar Lev line the Israelis once constructed to keep Egypt at bay. The king let the Mossad set up a base in Morocco in 1964, and eavesdrop on an Arab summit called to discuss a united military command on the eve of the 1967 six-day war.
In domestic affairs, King Hassan fiddled continually with the constitution to secure power while retaining a whiff of democracy. His amendments of 1970 banned parliament from debating royal decrees, since that was tantamount to challenging the will of God. The king retained control of internal security, foreign policy and defence.
Moroccan law still forbids inquiry into the king’s finances. In the mid-1970s, having expropriated the property of French settlers, the king was reported to own a fifth of the country’s arable land. The mining of phosphates (Morocco is the world’s largest exporter) remains a royal concern. By the time of his death, the king had built at least ten golf courses for his private use, including one in Fez, floodlit for nighttime rounds.”
*’driven out’ is possibly a more appropriate term: the atmosphere was one of virulent antisemitic nationalism and repression, despite King Hassan’s philosemitism, and the remaining Jews of Morocco left amid the heightened tensions following the 1967 war.
My return to Morocco