AP / August 28, 2023
CAIRO – One of Libya’s rival prime ministers said Monday he has suspended his foreign minister a day after Israel revealed that its chief diplomat met with her last week — news that prompted scattered street protests in the chaos-stricken North African nation.
Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who heads the government of national unity in the capital, Tripoli, also referred Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush for an investigation over the meeting, which was the first ever between top diplomats of Libya and Israel.
Dbeibah did not clarify on what grounds Maongoush would be investigated. However, is illegal to normalize ties with Israel under a 1957 law in Libya, which has long been hostile toward Israel.
Mangoush fled to Turkey following the Israeli announcement of the meeting, according to a Libyan foreign ministry official.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Mangoush met in Rome last week. It was a small breakthrough for Israel’s government, whose hardline policies toward the Palestinians have led to a cooling of its burgeoning ties with the Arab world.
Cohen said they discussed the importance of preserving the heritage of Libya’s former Jewish community, including renovating synagogues and cemeteries. The talks also touched on possible Israeli assistance for humanitarian issues, agriculture and water management, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
The Libyan foreign ministry, meanwhile, sought to downplay the importance of the meeting as “unprepared and an unofficial meeting during a meeting with Italy’s foreign minister.” It said in a statement that Mangoush’s encounter with Cohen didn’t include “any talks, agreements or consultations.”
Dbeibah’s decision to suspend Mangoush suggested that he was not aware of the meeting. However, two senior Libyan government officials told The Associated Press the prime minister did know about the talks between his foreign minister and the Israeli chief diplomat.
One of the officials said Dbeibah gave the green light for the meeting last month when he was on a visit to Rome. The prime minister’s office arranged the encounter in coordination with Mangoush, he said.
The second official said the meeting lasted for about two hours and Mangoush briefed the prime minister directly after her return to Tripoli. The official said the meeting crowned U.S.-brokered efforts to have Libya join a series of Arab countries establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.
The official said normalization of relations between Libya and Israel was first discussed in a meeting between Dbeibah, and CIA Director William Burns, who visited the Libyan capital in January.
The Libyan premier gave initial approval for joining the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords, but he was concerned about public backlash in a country known for its past support for the Palestinian cause, the official said.
The official, meanwhile, said Mangoush who was surprised by the Israeli announcement, quickly fled the Libyan capital on a private flight to Istanbul.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity for their safety.
Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow specializing in Libya at the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, said Dbeibah has sought to please foreign governments as he has come under growing pressure from the U.N. and other countries over the political stalemate in his nation.
Harchaoui said the Libyan prime minister’s decision to suspend his foreign minister “undoubtedly” aimed at calming public anger.
Israel’s foreign ministry did not respond to reporters’ questions early Monday, including whether Cohen’s announcement had been coordinated with Libya.
An Israeli official, however, said the foreign ministry was forced to go public after an Israeli media outlet planned to publish a report on the meeting. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the behind-the-scenes diplomacy, said that Israel informed the Libyans about the leak and said that both countries had previously agreed to announce the meeting at an unspecified time.
Libya was plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The oil-rich country has been split between the Western-backed government in Tripoli and a rival administration in the country’s east. Each side has been backed by armed groups and foreign governments. Gadhafi was hostile to Israel and a staunch supporter of the Palestinians, including radical militant groups opposed to peace with Israel.
Sunday’s announcement of the meeting prompted scattered protests in Tripoli and other towns in western Libya. Protesters stormed the foreign ministry headquarters to condemn the meeting, while others attacked and burned a residence for the prime minister in Tripoli, according to local reports.
In the town of Zawiya protesters burned the Israeli flag, while others held the Palestinian flag. There were also protests in the city of Misrata, a stronghold for Dbeibah, according to footage circulated on social media and verified by The Associated Press.
Khalid al-Mishri, an Islamist politician who was the chair of the State Council, a Tripoli-based legislative body, condemned the meeting and called for the dismissal of Dbeibah’s government, which is close to the U.S. and the West.
“This government has crossed all prohibited lines and must be brought down,” he wrote on the X platform, previously known as Twitter.
The east-based House of Representatives also slammed the meeting as a “legal and moral crime.” It called for an emergency session Monday in the eastern city of Benghazi.
In Israel, Yair Lapid, a former foreign minister and prime minister, criticized Cohen for going public with the sensitive meeting.
“Countries of the world this morning are looking at the irresponsible leak of the meeting of the Israeli and Libyan foreign minister and asking themselves: is it possible to manage foreign relations with this country? Is it possible to trust this country?” Lapid said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed
Libya suspends foreign minister after Israel meeting sparks protests
AFP / August 28, 2023
Protesters in Tripoli wave Palestinian flags and block roads over what Libyan foreign ministry called a ‘chance and unofficial encounter’ with Israeli counterpart.
The leader of Libya’s government has suspended his foreign minister after her Israeli counterpart announced he had held talks with her last week in Rome, despite the countries not having formal relations.
Prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said on Sunday evening that minister Najla al-Mangoush has been “temporarily suspended” and would be subject to an “administrative investigation” by a commission chaired by the justice minister.
On the streets of Tripoli and its suburbs, protests erupted on Sunday evening in a sign of refusal of normalization with Israel. The protests spread to other cities where young people blocked roads, burned tyres and waved the Palestinian flag.
The Libyan foreign ministry described the meeting with Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen as a “chance and unofficial encounter”, but street protests were already under way in several Libyan cities.
The political row broke out on Sunday after Israel’s foreign ministry said the two countries’ foreign ministers had met the previous week. The statement said Israel’s Cohen and Mangoush, his Libyan counterpart in the Tripoli-based administration, spoke at a meeting in Rome hosted by Italian foreign minister Antonio Tajani.
The Israeli statement described it as the first such diplomatic initiative between the two countries.
“I spoke with the foreign minister about the great potential for the two countries from their relations,” Cohen said in the statement from Israel’s foreign ministry.
The Libyan foreign ministry claimed on Sunday evening that Mangoush had “refused to meet with any party” representing Israel. “What happened in Rome was a chance and unofficial encounter, during a meeting with his Italian counterpart, which did not involve any discussion, agreement or consultation,” the ministry said in a statement.
The minister had reiterated “in a clear and unambiguous manner Libya’s position regarding the Palestinian cause”, the statement added.
News of the meeting had sparked protests in some Libyan cities and a letter from Libya’s Presidential Council requesting clarification.
The Libyan foreign ministry accused Israel of trying to “present this incident” as a “meeting or talks”.
In the Israel foreign ministry statement, Cohen was quoted as saying that the two discussed “the importance of preserving the heritage of Libyan Jews, which includes renovating synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in the country.
“Libya’s size and strategic location offer a huge opportunity for the state of Israel,” he added.
There was no immediate confirmation of the meeting from Rome.
Earlier on Sunday evening, Libya’s Presidential Council requested “clarifications” from the government, according to Libya Al-Ahrar TV, citing correspondence from spokeswoman Najwa Wheba.
The Presidential Council, which has some executive powers and sprang from the UN-backed political process, includes three members representing the three Libyan provinces.
The letter said that this development “does not reflect the foreign policy of the Libyan state, does not represent the Libyan national constants and is considered a violation of Libyan laws which criminalize normalization with the ‘Zionist entity’”.
It asked the head of government “to apply the law if the meeting took place”.
Like several other North African countries, Libya has a rich Jewish heritage.
But during decades of rule by former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, thousands of Jews were expelled from Libya and many synagogues were destroyed.
The country is split politically with rival administrations – the Tripoli government in the west and another in the east backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
Israel has normalized relations with some Arab countries in recent years as part of US-backed deals known as the Abraham Accords. However, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government has come under intense criticism from Arab states because of surging violence in the West Bank and for backing the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territory.
Libyan PM sacks foreign minister as row over Israel meeting grows
Reuters / August 28, 2023
TRIPOLI/JERUSALEM – Libya’s prime minister sacked Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush on Monday in an effort to contain a growing furore over Mangoush’s meeting with her Israeli counterpart last week, which prompted protests overnight in several Libyan cities.
Mangoush had said her meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Rome was unplanned and informal, but an Israeli official told Reuters it had lasted two hours and was approved “at the highest levels in Libya”.
The meeting is contentious because Libya does not formally recognise Israel and there is widespread public support across the Libyan political spectrum for the Palestinian cause of creating an independent state in territory Israel occupies.
The dispute over the meeting has fed into Libya’s internal political crisis, giving ammunition to Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah’s internal critics at a moment when the future of his interim government was already in question.
Libya has been without a stable central government since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Dbeibah’s interim government, in office since 2021, is not recognized by some major factions and there is growing political momentum to replace it with a new unified administration aimed at holding national elections.
Protesters demonstrated in front of Libya’s Foreign Ministry late on Sunday, causing some damage outside the building, where a large security presence was visible early on Monday. Protests took place in other parts of Tripoli, as well as other cities.
Burning tyres blocked some major roads in Tripoli on Monday and the Palestinian flag was raised in central Benghazi, but there was no sign of violence.
Mangoush’s office tried to quell the anger late on Sunday, saying she had rejected a request for an official meeting with Cohen, but that they had met during an unplanned encounter while she was meeting Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.
The Israeli official disputed that account. “The meeting was coordinated at the highest levels in Libya and lasted almost two hours. The Libya prime minister sees Israel as a possible bridge to the West and the U.S. administration,” the official said.
A second Libyan official said Dbeibah had asked Italy to arrange the meeting in the hopes of gaining stronger U.S. and other international backing for his interim government.
“The government is afraid that international support will get weaker and disappear,” the official said.
A diplomatic source in Italy said Libya’s and Israel’s foreign ministries had been in contact “for some time” before the meeting without Italy’s involvement, but that the two had asked for Italy’s help in providing a location to meet.
Since 2020 Israel has normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan through the so-called “Abraham Accords” brokered by the United States, which sees further agreements with Arab states as a key regional goal.
Dbeibah’s Government of National Unity (GNU), installed through a U.N.-backed process, has pushed for stronger ties with all countries involved in Libya, including the UAE and Israel’s main ally the United States.
Libya’s parliament based in the east, which rejects the GNU, said on Sunday it would hold hearings into the meeting with the Israeli minister. The Tripoli-based Presidency Council has asked Dbeibah for clarification on the meeting and the High State Council, another important body, condemned it.
After fighting in Tripoli this month, many Libyans will be watching whether armed factions opposed to Dbeibah use the dispute as a pretext to move against him.
Diplomacy has focused on national elections to resolve the internal conflict. Last week the U.N. envoy to Libya said a new unified government was needed for a vote to take place, raising questions about international backing for Dbeibah.
Italy has a small military contingent in Libya, oil and gas contracts in the country and an interest in stemming migration from Libyan shores to Italy.
Francesco Galietti, head of Rome-based political risk consultancy Policy Sonar, said by hosting the meeting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni aimed to raise Italy’s diplomatic profile but the move had proved “a boomerang.”
Reporting by Reuters Libya newsroom, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Francesca Landini and Gavin Jones in Rome; writing by Angus McDowall; editing by James Mackenzie, Peter Graff, Mark Heinrich and Conor Humphries
Israel says its foreign minister met with his Libyan counterpart in sign of burgeoning ties
AP / August 27, 2023
JERUSALEM – The Israeli and Libyan foreign ministers met secretly in Italy last week, Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced Sunday, in what it said was the first-ever meeting between the country’s top diplomats.
The meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Najla Mangoush, foreign minister of the Tripoli-based government, marked a small breakthrough for Israel’s government, whose hard-line policies toward the Palestinians have led to a cooling of its burgeoning ties with the Arab world.
“I spoke with the foreign minister about the great potential for relations between the two countries,” Cohen said in a statement. He said the meeting was hosted by Italy’s foreign minister in Rome.
Cohen said he discussed the importance of preserving the heritage of Libya’s former Jewish community, including renovating synagogues and cemeteries. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said talks also touched on possible Israeli assistance for humanitarian issues, agriculture and water management.
A Libyan government official said normalization of relations between the countries was first discussed in a meeting between the Tripoli-based prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, and CIA Director William Burns, who visited the Libyan capital in January.
According to the official, Burns proposed that Dbeibah’s government, which is recognized as Libya’s internationally backed government, join the group of four Arab countries that normalized relations with Israel under the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020. The Libyan premier gave an initial approval, but he was concerned about public backlash in a country known for its past support for the Palestinian cause, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
The late Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, was hostile to Israel and a staunch supporter of the Palestinians, including radical militant groups opposed to peace with Israel.
Libya was plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled Gadhafi, who was later killed, and left the country divided between rival governments in Benghazi in the east and Tripoli in the west. The United Nations has been struggling to shepherd the country toward new elections.
Dbeibah is close to Italy and the West.
Then-President Donald Trump brokered the Abraham Accords. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been eager to expand ties with the Arab world, but his government has come under heavy criticism due to its support for West Bank settlement construction and ongoing military raids on suspected militant strongholds in the occupied territory.
Associated Press writer Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed reporting