Alpine age (Oligocene-Miocene) deformation in the western Mediterranean formed the Rif mountain belt of northern Morocco. A linear east-northeast-west-southwest trend of cross elements from Jebah (Mediterranean coast) to Arbaoua (near the Atlantic coast) extends through several thrust sheets in the western Rif. The cross elements are manifest as a lateral ramp, the northern limit of a large culmination, and they affect syntectonic turbidite sandstone distribution. Gravity anomalies indicate that the cross-element zone is coincident with a transition zone from normal thickness to thinner continental crust. It is suggested that an early Mesozoic strike-slip fault system related to rifting of North America from North Africa caused a strong east-northeast-west-southwest, basement block-fault trend to form on the normal thickness side of the thick-to-thin continental crustal transition zone. This trend later influenced the position of the Alpine age cross-element zone that traverses several different Mesozoic and Tertiary basins, inverted during the Alpine deformation.