While eager to get U.S. arms, King Hassan II is more interested in the implicit U.S. political support for Morocco's controversial occupation of the former Spanish Sahara, according to persons close to the king.
Before President Carter's decision Monday to provide arms to Morocco, palace insiders made no secret of the political capital attached to such a U.S. move, especially at a time when France,. the king's other major arms supplier, is seeking a more evenhanded approach in the Saharan conflict pitting Morocco against oil-rich Algeria and Libya.
The palace insiders note that Morocco could have looked elsewhere for the reconnaissance aircraft approved for sale Monday. Yet the Moroccans apparently hope the Carter move will also translate into U.S. diplomatic support for Morocco's claims in the Sahara, embracing an area the size of California.
The reconnaisance plane -- the armed Bronco -- is the only item approved by Carter likely to be useful to the Moroccans in their now four-year-old desert war against the Algeria-based Polisario guerrillas, according to specialists.
They insist the Cobra gunship helicopter equipped with eight TOW antitank missiles is earmarked for Morocan forces facing Algeria's better equipped army along their border.
Air power has enabled Morocco to cope with the massive frontal attacks Polisario has mounted since early August.
Morocco has come out even, or even ahead in six or eight major battles. At least one of the routs of its forces -- at Lebouirate in southern Morocco -- was partly because of cloud cover which prevented air operations, according to specialists.
The change of Polisario tacties to large-sale attacks followed Morocco's reducing the number of isolated out-posts and thus the risks of Polisario ambushes of Moroccan supply convoys.
Polisario is faced with the classic guerrilla dilemma of having succeeded so well in picking off small targets with hit-and-run tactics that it is forced to mount costly frontal attacks against a well-entrenched adversary.
However, specialists equate Polisario's present military escalation with a quick resolution of the conflict on the ground. They are convinced the guerrillas may soon return to less spectacular smaller operations.
Analysts note the set-piece battles have coincided with political objectives, specifically a desire to show Morocco up during the Havana nonaligned conference in September and the current United Nations General Assembly debates on the Sahara.
Since the Polisario attack on targets inside Morocco proper in January, the United States has sold Hassan six Chinook helicopters. It has also tolerated the use of artillery, M15 rifles, C130 transport planes, F5 figthers, GMC trucks and other U.S. material in the Saharan fighting.
Previously, the Carter administration insisted the king abide by a 1960 agreement restricting the use of U.S. material to Morocco proper.
Until now C130s and light aircraft have shared the aerial reconnaissance task over the Sahara. Delivery of OV10 Bronco armed reconnaissance planes should free those aircraft for other tasks.
Indicative of the mounting intensity of the fighting has been the introduction of the F1 by Morocco and Polisario's use of armored cars and truckmounted batteries of 122mm Soviet rockets.
The battle at the holy city of Smara in early October was the biggest of the war so far, although analysts discount both Moroccan and Polisario claims of having inflicted more than 1,000 casualties on each other.
The increasingly efficient use of air power -- the only clear advantage the Moroccans have over their hit-and-run enemy -- also reflects vastly improved air and ground command coordination. Ground commanders no longer complain that air support arrived after the fighting had ended.
Following the Polisario attack on the Morocann city of Tan Tan in January, Hassan shook up his field commanders. In Col. Mohammed Abrouk he appears to have found an energetic Saharan commander. Other key positions have also been changed and foreign analysts say the new commanders are fighting more energetically.