On Leila Island
Is It Over?
The tree that hides the forest
It has been an exciting few days on this stretch of Morocco's Mediterranean coast. Inhabitants of the neighboring area scratch their heads over the trouble caused by their island while Morocco locals were really amused over the row, and the event created a real shockwaves in the media all over the world.
We read in the news that "10 Moroccan soldiers invade Spain and occupy its territory" ??? Well, this is exactly the impression one can have when he listens to the news, news that become an intense glare of the international spotlight, from Brussels to Moscow. And when we hear from Brussels that "Leila is territory of the European Union", then we can understand than these 10 Moroccan soldiers have invaded the whole Europe.
Two tents, two flags and 10 soldiers which define Morocco's hold on their islet Leila is the latest salvo in a dispute with Spain which has simmered for centuries. The whole world witnesses that Spain responded to this Moroccan legitimate act with naval ships, warships frigates, planes, helicopters and even a submarine. The media all over the world considers the two countries at a step closer to military confrontation.
It seems that the Spaniards are determined to keep their toe-hold on the African continent. If this is really the case, then we can consider the tiny uninhabited Perejil/Leila Islet incident as the tree that hides the forest, specially if we know that Leila Islet is just 150 meters from Moroccan shore, and 13 kilometers from Spain. After Moroccan independence in 1956, Madrid retained various bits of its former protectorate in the North African littoral, notably the enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla on Morocco's north coast and the Chafarinas Islands.
Perejil/Leila had been "liberated" in 1956, when the Spanish protectorate came to an end. Ceuta and Melilla are on the Moroccan territory at the heart of the North African side of the Continent and the Chafarinas Islands' status has remained ambiguous.
Perejil, which means parsley in Spanish, and known as Leila Island in the North African country "Morocco" is about 200 yards off the Moroccan mainland and has no strategic value. The islet had been home for some Moroccans who sometimes go there for fishing or camping, others take their goats for grazing on this rocky outcrop no larger than a football pitch.
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated over the past year and bilateral relations were already at a low ebb. The main bones of contention are the non-renewal of a fishing treaty allowing Spanish fishermen access to Moroccan waters, disputes over the control of trade in illegal immigrants and drugs, oil exploration in disputed areas, and the sovereignty of Ceuta and Melilla. Then, last month, Morocco has been successful to arrest members of al-Qa'eda who planned to launch an attack on British and US shipping in the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain said there was no evidence that attacks would have been launched from Spanish soil.
We all know that Morocco and Spain shouldn't be wrestling over a little bit of land like Leila, therefore, where is the truth? Well, Morocco sent its "men" to the Island to set up an observation post as part of the fight against terrorism, clandestine emigration and smuggling trade, a request repeatedly made by the neighboring Spanish government to Morocco many times. Morocco is carrying its duty not only for Spain, but for the International Community as well and as requested by international legitimacy.
Terrorism is a treat to the whole world. clandestine emigration is a treat to humanity and smuggling trade is a treat to Moroccan national economy. Morocco is doing its job. Now, ask anybody in the neighboring area of Leila, have you ever seen in your life a Spaniard on Leila, he will reply: "I have never seen a single Spaniard on Leila."
So, what is happening?
Some Moroccans and their pals used to go out there on Leila and play out or camp there for few day, just them and the goats. There has been always had a military post on the Islet. The island was always an advanced post against drug trafficking and smuggling, and now and from September 11th, an observation spot for unpredictable movements of terrorist groups who would like to operate from anywhere to attack U.S interests in the Spanish territory and the Strait of Gibraltar, Morocco wants to prevent them from starting their "concealed strategy and plans" from here.
Yes, it has been an exciting few days on this stretch of Morocco's coast. But when even Russia, with all its networks of intelligence, gets in on the act, saying it is worried about the growing tension between Spain and Morocco, you begin to feel a bit over-exposed.
To be continued in the next issue of Morocco today
H. B. Qounin, Editor, Morocco today. For more information and latest update, kindly phone to: 00 97150 7340605