Morocco’s Satellite Mohammed VI-A is Changing North African Regional Power Balance

Nearly a month ago, when discussions on the Western Sahara reached their peak at the UN Security Council, Moroccan representatives at the UN provided the Security Council with unprecedented proof—high-resolution satellite images—of the many Polisario Front intrusions in the buffer strip.

Some in the international community, especially the notoriously pro-Polisario axis, perceived the images as fake news, unfounded narratives aimed at discrediting and criminalizing the separatist group.

Algeria’s foreign minister, for instance, dismissed Morocco’s evidence in an interview with France 24, calling them fabricated proof to challenge the legitimacy of the Polisario Front and sabotage the UN-led negotiations.

However, as UN officials would later reveal in a statement urging Polisario separatists to respect and uphold the terms of the cease-fire agreement by withdrawing from the buffer strip, Morocco’s visual proof was eventually accepted as authentic.

That the Polisario Front has orchestrated military maneuvers in restricted areas east of the Moroccan defense wall was a well-known fact to anyone well-versed in the decades-long Western Sahara question.

When Nasser Bourita met with UN Security General Antonio Guterres in mid-April this year, Morocco’s concerns went beyond mere accusations, “allegations,” or the blanket condemnation that Morocco typically delivers.

Instead, the Moroccan foreign affairs minister, Nasser Bourita, handed the UN official a documented file of high-resolution satellite images illustrating that, in addition to military maneuvers, the Polisario Front was actively developing its facilities in Tindouf, with a number of “administrative buildings” already established.

A week later, both the UN Secretary General and his personal spokesperson, the French diplomat, Stéphane Dujarric, called on Polisario to refrain from military actions and respect the spirit of the military agreement N.1.

This statement followed Mr. Dujarric’s previous statement denying any evidence of the separatist military transgressions. These new images document threats to Morocco’s territorial integrity and ensure that all threats are visible to national and international observers.

Mohammed VI: Game-changer satellite

Launched in early November 2017, the Mohammed VI-A satellite is Morocco’s second functioning satellite. However, in terms of quality and performance, the five-month old device is by far the North African country’s premier satellite.

The Mohammed VI-A satellite operates from Kourou, in French Guiana, at the Centre Spatial Guyanais. It is Morocco’s first satellite dedicated to high-resolution imaging, with high resolution Imager (HiRI) playloads that can perform a resolution of up to 70 centimeters and 28 inches.

In addition to the quality of its images, Mohammed VI-A, can capture over 500 images on a daily basis and update its data every six hours, providing an important update in the threat identification capabilities of Morocco’s intelligence agencies.

As the satellite is expected to operate for five years, one spatial security specialist told Moroccan outlet le360 that Mohammed VI-A is already offering considerable and unprecedented advances to Morocco in its deep-rooted regional rivalry with Algiers.

Despite its recent acquisition of a Chinese satellite, the specialist asserted that the Algerian military will require “at least four years” to develop a satellite with capabilities similar to those of Mohammed VI-A.

Considering how Moroccan officials and security experts continue updating technology during those years, the specialist suggested that Mohammed VI-A may have “irreversibly” swung the North Africa’s regional balance of power in Morocco’s favor.

Made-in-Morocco engineers

Although the satellite project received sizable support from France in its early phases, the satellite has been totally monitored by more than 100 Moroccan national engineers since its launch in November 2017. The specialist further explained that these top-performing engineers studied at two of the country’s best information and documentation agencies and received “three years of solid training in total discretion.”

Mohammed VI-A and the Iran-Algiers-Hezbollah-Polisario incident

When Morocco announced that it was cutting off diplomatic ties with Iran last week, the move hardly shocked national and international observers, due to the polar ideologies of the two countries, both politically and religiously.

Beyond ideology, however, Morocco’s foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, linked Morocco’s decision to clear and “indisputable evidence” of the Tehran-backed Hezbollah military support for the Polisario Front.

Though Algiers, Hezbollah, and Tehran have all denied Morocco’s accusations, calling them “unfounded allegations” and “unconvincing pretext,” Morocco’s foreign ministry insists upon its ” irrefutable evidence, including names, images, and particular incidents.”

Although Bourita did not say whether Mohammed VI-A played a role in the Iran incident, many specialists and journalists have suggested that the “irrefutable proof” and images that the minster mentioned were likely taken from the satellite’s database.

This new technology transcends Morocco’s verbal condemnation that has historically characterized its response to Polisario’s transgressions in the Western Sahara.

The implementation of new technology like Mohammed VI-A allows Morocco to present its receipts to the UN and other international institutions and demand a shift in status quo of separatist escalations.