The Perejil Island (Spanish Isla Perejil, Arabic Leila, Laila (ليلى)) is a small, uninhabited rocky islet located in the Strait of Gibraltar. Its sovereignty is disputed between Spain and Morocco. It was the subject of an armed incident between both countries in 2002.
The islet's sovereignty is disputed by Morocco and Spain. The vast majority of Spaniards and Moroccans had not heard of the islet until July 11, 2002, when a group of Moroccan soldiers set up base on the islet. The Moroccan government said that they set foot on the island in order to monitor illegal immigration, which was denied by the Spanish government since there had been little co-operation in the matter by that time (a repeated source of complaint from Spain). After protests from the Spanish government, led by José María Aznar, the soldiers were replaced by Moroccan navy cadets who then installed a fixed base on the island. This further angered the Spanish government and both countries restated their claims to the islet. Spain's objections were fully supported by almost all European Union member states, with the exception of a rather cold shoulder from France and Portugal (whose government issued a statement regretting the incident). Morocco's claims had official support from the Arab League, except for Algeria. Algeria took that occasion to insist on Algerian recognition of Spanish sovereignty over the exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. This exception should be placed in the context of historical geopolitical tension between Morocco and Algeria, combined with the fact that Spain is currently Algeria's third biggest trading partner (mostly based on the natural gas trade).
On the morning of July 18, 2002 Spain launched Operation Romeo-Sierra, a military attempt to take over the island. The operation was successful and the Moroccan navy cadets were dislodged from the island in a matter of hours without offering any resistance to the Spanish commando attack force, Grupo de Operaciones Especiales III. The operation was launched in conjunction with the Spanish Navy and Spanish Air Force. The captured Moroccans were transferred by helicopter to the headquarters of the Guardia Civil in Ceuta, from where they were transported to the Moroccan border. Over the course of the same day the Spanish commandos were replaced on the island by members of the Spanish Legion, who remained on the island until Morocco, after mediation by the United States, led by Colin Powell, agreed to return to the status quo ante which existed prior to the Moroccan occupation of the island. The islet is now deserted.
Isla Perejil has no permanent human population. Goats are pastured there, and the Moroccan government expressed worries that smugglers and terrorists, in addition to illegal immigrants, were using the island. The island is well monitored from both sides in order to maintain the status quo that leaves it deserted and virtually a no man's land.
Morocco had demanded the "return" of the Spanish cities Ceuta and Melilla along with several small rocks and islets off the coast of Morocco. The crisis over Isla Perejil was seen by the Spanish government as a way for Morocco to test the waters in regard to Spain's will to defend Ceuta and Melilla.
Both Spain and Morocco claim the islet, thus, its sovereignty remains unclear.