Israel’s Netanyahu wants to approve all secret talks after Libya debacle

Al-Jazeera  /  August 30, 2023

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has issued an order saying he must approve all secret talks after a leaked meeting between his foreign minister and the latter’s Libyan counterpart led to a fiasco.

The premier has also said his ministers need to secure his consent before publicizing news of any such meetings, his spokesperson said.

Netanyahu, who said he had no knowledge of the meeting between the Israeli and Libyan foreign ministers, appears to want to distance himself from the fallout of the political debacle that could affect his entire normalization agenda with Arab states.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Sunday that top diplomat Eli Cohen met Libyan Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush in Rome last week, hailing it as a “historic” step towards normalization with the North African state.

The news immediately created a firestorm, leading Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah to suspend Al-Mangoush pending an investigation. He fired Al-Mangoush after she fled to Turkey for fear of her safety.

Protests also erupted across several cities in Libya after the news was publicized, with demonstrators setting fire to tires, waving Palestinian flags and chanting against the prime minister. Libya has been traditionally a supporter of Palestine against Israeli occupation.

Cohen reportedly publicized the meeting after an Israeli media outlet was informed and intended to reveal it.

Like Netanyahu, Dbeibah said he had no knowledge of the meeting, but analysts have said it is unlikely the premiers were completely unaware of their top diplomats meeting over normalization.

Dbeibah is the leader of an administration based in Tripoli located in western Libya, as the oil-rich country has for years been divided into two rival governments that rule over its eastern and western halves. Each side has been backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Libya has seen constant chaos after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that toppled longstanding strongman Muammar Gaddafi, who was hostile to Israel and a staunch supporter of Palestinians.

The United States has also been reportedly furious with the revelation of the secret meeting as it jeopardizes prospects of years-long efforts to restore relations between a politically isolated Israel and the Arab states of the tense region.

Israeli media reported that Stephanie Hallett, acting US ambassador to Israel, had a meeting with Cohen on Monday and expressed dissatisfaction with the Israeli announcement.

Washington mediated a normalization of relations between Israel and two Arab monarchies – the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – during the administration of former President Donald Trump, and now wants to expand that trend to other countries, chief among them Saudi Arabia.