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Morocco and Algeria are ready to challenge each other for control of Western Sahara. Control of that piece of desert could spark a war between Rabat and Algiers, eternal rivals. In the background, the fate of the Polisario Front, supported by the Algerian government.
For over a year, tension has been growing in Western Sahara. Last year, the Moroccan governament unilaterally declared the sovereignty of Rabat over Western Sahara. Due to the choice of Rabat, Polisario Front and Algeria have declared that they are ready for war. Morocco claims it has no intention of starting a conflict. But in the meantime, it strengthens its defense systems. Over the past year, the Rabat government has spent nearly $ 10 billion on the purchase of attack drones from Turkey, Apache helicopters and F-16 jets from USA.
Moroccan armed forces continue to garrison those disputed territories. And Rabat diplomacy continues to work to bolster US government support. On November 22, the Moroccan Minister of Defense met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Washington confirmed its support for Rabat.
A low-intensity war is already being fought in the dunes of the Western Sahara.
The latest incident took place on November 1st. Three Algerian drivers lost their lives while aboard their trucks, which went up in flames and then exploded along the road from Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, to Ouargala in Algeria.
Morocco and Algeria both accuse each other of being responsible for that episode. For the Kingdom of Morocco, it would not have been an attack, but an explosion caused by the passage of trucks over a minefield. Those mines, according to Rabat intelligence, were allegedly placed there by Polisario forces.
From Algiers comes a different story. According to the state news agency “Aps” “three Algerian citizens were cowardly murdered by a barbaric bombing of their trucks” accusing the Moroccan armed forces of having conducted an air raid using a drone. The Algiers government has warned: “Their murder will not remain unpunished”.
Abdelmajid Tebboune, president of Algeria, accuses Morocco of being the cause of all the problems in the country. According to the Algiers government, Rabat plots to overthrow the Algerian government. Polisario Front, has made it known that it will not stop fighting for the independence of Western Sahara.
From that distant piece of desert the sound of war drums comes louder and louder. The closure of the Maghreb – Europe Gas Pipeline (MEG) could also be the prelude to an armed conflict.
The dispute over the Western Sahara began in 1975 when, following the withdrawal of Spanish rule, Morocco annexed a part of this area, located on the north-western coast of Africa. In response, in 1976, the Polisario Front (formed as a movement on 1973), announced the birth of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, establishing a government in exile in Algeria and waging a guerrilla war for independence that lasted until 1991, when a ceasefire was declared, promoted by the United Nations.
Now, after thirty years, there is a risk of a new conflict.