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With goverment facing growing trials, Lapid shines spotlight on Morocco ties

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As Israel’s unity government starts to feel pressure, and some of his own choices as foreign minister come under scrutiny, Yair Lapid sought during his first trip to Morocco this week to focus attention on his grand vision for a moderate, peaceful and innovative Middle East.

“Strategically, what we are creating here, and what we have been creating over the past few months is essentially a political axis,” he told Israeli and Moroccan journalists in a Casablanca hotel Thursday afternoon.

“Think about it as a sort of circle consisting of Israel, Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan, and in some ways one can also add Cyprus, Greece, Bahrain, the UAE. All the nations that are moderate religiously with truly limitless economic potential.”

“We are creating a sort of circle of life against the terrorist circle of death of Iran… We are not offering only an alternative idea, but also economy, places of work for youth, an entry into the fields of technological innovation, a feeling of belonging to the future instead of the past.”

And Lapid came away with tangible achievements.

He signed three framework agreements in culture and sports, air travel, and relations between the two foreign ministries. He also announced that his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, would be making a trip to Israel in October or November, and would be opening a full-fledged embassy in Israel.

Lapid added that he would be flying to Bahrain in the next month to open Israel’s embassy in the smallest Arab country, one of Israel’s new partners in the Gulf.

Beyond the official signs of progress, there were informal indications of welcome and personal warmth that surprised diplomats on the visit, according to a Foreign Ministry official on the trip.

In what has increasingly emerged as one of the most important tools in Lapid’s diplomatic kit, he built a personal rapport with Bourita during a private meeting that went well beyond its scheduled time.

In his UAE trip last month, Lapid also extended meetings with ministers as conversations moved from official business to religion, history, and philosophy.

King Mohammed VI, Morocco’s much-beloved ruler whose visage is ubiquitous in the kingdom, made sure to make a gesture as well. He sent Moroccan cookies to be distributed to the delegation on its red-eye flight back to Israel Thursday night.

But amid all signs of progress, it is impossible to ignore some worrying matters for Lapid and the Naftali Bennett’s government.

After Israel appeared to have put the coronavirus pandemic behind it in June, the past two months have seen a rapidly accelerating spread in morbidity, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant.

With the pandemic returning with a vengeance, Bennett took time off with his family this weekend, canceling Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman had both been absent from coronavirus cabinet meetings until news of their non-participation reached the media.

Facing questions on whether traveling to Morocco was truly necessary while the prime minister is asking Israelis not to fly abroad, Lapid revealed that he had canceled his own family’s three-day trip to Crete, and decided to fly to Morocco because it was a necessary part of his job, not a vacation.

“This is work. My mother-in-law opens her shop in the morning too, she does........

© The Times of Israel

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