- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

I was quite disappointed to read on Monday that the prospects for war between Morocco and Spain were lessening. What with nuclear-armed Pakistan and India poised for catastrophe, and our own death struggle with terrorism still gearing up, I was rather looking forward to a nice little war that couldn't possibly affect anyone I know.

It all started rather hopefully last Thursday, when 12 Moroccan soldiers occupied the Spanish island of Perejil. Technically, it is not an island, but as the New York Times impeccably pointed out an islet. In fact it is a mere 40-foot-high outcropping of rock the size of a football field although the media has been unclear whether that was an American or European-sized football field. Until the 12 Moroccan regulars arrived, Perejil which is Spanish for parsley was populated exclusively by goats.

The reason for the invasion was a little murky, but Spain and Morocco have a long history of meaningless and inconsequential disputes. My sanguinary hopes were raised over the weekend when Spain responded to the provocation by sending gunboats, submarines and attack helicopters to the theater which is 200 yards off Morocco's coast.

This was followed with the encouraging statement by Romano Prodi, the humorless president of the European Commission, that the two potential belligerents were engaged in a "long, tense and frank" exchange. How tense could it get, with nothing at stake and insufficient room on the islet to set up a potential killing field? But if they thought it was tense, all the better.

Although neither country has made any specific threats, the BBC reported that there were "hints" that Madrid might suspend a 1991 cooperation and friendship treaty with Morocco. Wars have been started over less. European Christians wiped out a third of their northern population during the 30 Years War in large part over the question of whether, in the Christian eucharist, the wine and wafer symbolize, or are actually, the blood and flesh of Christ. So the hint of a broken friendship treaty held promise.

But then, Senora Ana Palacio, the Spanish foreign minister who had only been sworn into office the week before, deflated the martial expectations of both Spanish and Moroccan men when she announced that the Spanish dispatch of gunboats had only been "symbolic," and that the incident could be resolved if the two countries remained "reasonable and calm."

The flower of Spanish manhood was not to be so easily pacified. The male editor of Madrid's El Mundo newspaper quickly ginned-up an online poll, with 72 percent of its 40,000 respondents favoring Spain taking back its cherished Parsley Islet by force of arms. It's been an emotional roller coaster over the last 48 hours.

The New York Times seemed to suggest, on Monday, that a potential casus belli for the Moroccan invasion may have arisen when the Spanish royal family failed to send a representative to the recent wedding of Morocco's King Mohamed VI. Why the absence of the hated Bourbons at the Moroccan wedding so upset the hosts remains a mystery. This is all the more puzzling if one believes the report in the London Financial Times that "no Spaniard, not even King Juan Carlos a close friend of the Moroccan king's late father was invited."

Then again, some unnamed diplomats suggest that the king had nothing to do with the invasion decision. They point the finger at a certain Moroccan general Hosni Benslimane who, it is speculated, is trying to boost his standing within the Moroccan regime.

Whatever the truth of the "Wedding Outrage" or the "Ambitious General" may be, in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, high government sources are now letting it slip out that the real reason for setting up a base on Parsley Islet was, in the words of one journal, "[to use that location to help America] fight terrorism." It is considered unlikely that this Moroccan gesture of solidarity with America would bring the full military weight of the American behemoth into the line of battle should it come to that on the Moroccan side.

The always-scrappy Arab League, though, is rumored in diplomatic circles to be willing to help out its co-religionist Moroccan brothers having done about all it can for the time being in the Middle East to precipitate a major ground war there.

Unfortunately for Morocco, Spain is part of the European Union, which buys and sells the likes of the Arab League between rounds of espresso.

While European diplomats still don't expect war, I found hope in the words of Boubker Jamai, editor of Casablanca's Le Journal: "The dangerous thing is that we are in a situation where we don't see a solution."


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