EuropeMorocco

Spain did not warn EU of Mediterranean invasion plans

's premier José María Aznar failed to inform the European Union and other key allies in advance of the military offensive to regain a disputed island, sources say.

In apparent contravention of mutual defence accords, the European Commission, Council of Ministers and NATO were kept in the dark by Spain about its plans to mount a dawn raid to evict Moroccan paramilitaries who had occupied the island of Perejil since 11 July.

The Spanish government said yesterday that it had “informed” the UN Security Council and other allies about the attack. The implication was that they were told before the operation began. However, the UN Security Council in New York only learned of the mission after Spain raised its flag over Perejil following a textbook assault involving special forces, fighter planes, helicopters and warships. The attack was launched within hours of Madrid recalling its ambassador to Rabat.

A spokeswoman for the UN Security Council confirmed it had received a letter after the event. “It does not ask for Council involvement and is intended simply to inform and make clear that the matter is over,” she added.

A senior European Commission official, who asked not to be named, told me: “I think you could say that it took everybody here by surprise.”

Commission President Romano Prodi was asked yesterday to confirm whether Spain had contacted him before the attack. He declined to answer the question.

The Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who was in New York at the time of the attack, was due to issue a statement today following talks with the new Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio. His spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, said Solana has been in “constant contact with the Spanish government”. However, when asked whether he was told in advance about the planned attack on Perejil, she declined to comment.

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A NATO spokesman said Spain had briefed the alliance following the operation. “We are pleased that the status quo has been restored,” the spokesman added.

MEPs expressed concern that Aznar had apparently failed to consult allies beforehand. Liberal leader Graham Watson said: “Spain's allies might well now be asking why Aznar said they were consulted when, in fact, they were not. In any sensitive issues involving a third country, maximum consultation between member states is always desirable.”

Socialist Linda McAvan, a member of the foreign affairs committee, said: “This is a very sensitive issue and you would have thought that Spain…would have informed fellow EU ministers before taking any action.”

But support for Aznar came from Spanish centre-right MEP Iñigo Méndez de Vigo: “I really cannot believe the Spanish prime minister said that he had told his allies about this if he hadn't done so,” he said.

has reacted furiously to yesterday's action and demanded Spain's immediate and unconditional withdrawal from what it calls Leila island. Rabat called the attack “unjustified” and accused Madrid of “gunboat” diplomacy. It said its gendarmes took control of the island, some 200 metres off the coast of Rabat, in order to police cross-border drug trafficking.

The island has no obvious economic or military significance. It is, however, a proxy conflict for wider grievances. Underpinning it are disputes over two Spanish enclaves in North claimed by Morocco, illegal migration across the Straits of Gibraltar, fishing rights and the region of Western Sahara. Rabat recalled its ambassador to Madrid last October, without explanation.

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The European Commission said yesterday it would do all it could to “facilitate dialogue” between the two sides.

________

Additional reporting by Martin Banks

This article first appeared in the 18-24 July 2002 edition of The European Voice.

Author

  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil . Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the and . He grew up in Egypt and the , and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled’s life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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