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Libyan Foreign Minister Suspended Over Meeting Israel’s Foreign Minister

Foreign Minister in Libya’s transitional Government of National Unity (GNU) Najla Mangoush poses for a picture in the capital Tripoli, on March 17, 2021 [MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP via Getty Images]
Foreign Minister in Libya’s transitional Government of National Unity (GNU) Najla Mangoush poses for a picture in the capital Tripoli, on March 17, 2021 [MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP via Getty Images]

Libya's prime minister suspended Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush on Sunday and referred her for investigation after informally meeting with Israel's Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Italy last week.

In an official document issued by Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh's office, he instructed the formation of an investigative panel to probe Mangoush over the meeting.

Libya's Foreign Ministry also issued a quick statement denying any formal meeting occurred following a press release by Jerusalem announcing and celebrating the sit-down.

According to reports, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Libya's Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush met in Rome, with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio Taiani, hosting the meeting between the two foreign officials.

In subsequent news, Libya's Foreign Ministry said Mangoush rejected a meeting with Israeli representatives and what had occurred was "an unprepared, casual encounter during a meeting at Italy's Foreign Affairs Ministry."

Libya's Foreign Ministry added that the interaction did not include "any discussions, agreements or consultations" and added the ministry "renews its complete and absolute rejection of normalization" with Israel.

Prior to Mangoush's suspension, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen praised the meeting as "historic," given that both sides discussed potential cooperation and cordial relations between the two countries.

In a press release, Cohen stressed the importance of this unprecedented step, referring to it as the "first step in the relationship between Israel and Libya."

"The historic meeting with the Foreign Minister of Libya, Najla Mangoush, is the first step in the relationship between Israel and Libya. The size and strategic location of Libya give ties with its enormous importance and enormous potential for the State of Israel," he added.

The Israeli Foreign Minister said his country was working with several countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia to expand the "circle of peace and normalization of Israel."

"The government in Jerusalem has had conversations with many countries to improve the lives of people on both sides," said Shoshana Bryen, senior director of The Jewish Policy Center.

According to reports, Cohen's discussions with Mangoush included exploring possibilities for mutual benefits and preserving the heritage of Libyan Jewry, including restoring synagogues and Jewish cemeteries within Libya. The two also discussed the historical ties binding Israel and Libya and their shared interest in cooperation, including humanitarian initiatives, agriculture, and water management.

The discussion between Israel and Libya over potential cooperation and normalization comes as Arab governments are opening up to the Jewish state. During the Trump administration, Israel and several other Arab governments, including Morocco, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Sudan, agreed to normalize relations with the Jewish state, ushering in new economic and military cooperation initiatives.

"A number of Arab and African leaders have determined that putting the Palestinians at the center of diplomacy is a mistake and, while leaving a 'seat at the table' for the Palestinian Authority (PA), their priority is the welfare and security of their own people, and working with Israel has tremendous benefits," Bryen told The Foreign Desk.

Before the 2011 Arab Spring, Libyan Colonel Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi sought the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel, supporting Palestinian terrorist attacks against Jews and assisting Palestinian terrorists in the 1972 Munich Olympics against Jewish athletes from Israel. Following Gaddafi's overthrow, Libya has emerged into a failed state with different factions ruling various parts of the country.

Under Gaddafi's rule, Libya also supported the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his Islamic Revolution against the American-backed Shah of Iran, supplying followers of the Ayatollah with weapons and assisting Tehran during the war between Iran and Iraq.

The current Libyan Foreign Minister, who is from Britain but returned to Benghazi at a young age, represents the consensus government in Libya. She is the first woman in Libya to hold the position of Foreign Minister, advocating for conflict resolution and being active in Libyan politics since the aftermath of President Gaddafi's fall.

"The conversation with Abraham Accord countries has been expanded to Saudi Arabia and now maybe to Libya. It will go farther," Bryen said.

Related Story: Middle East 2.0 – What’s Possible After the Abraham Accords?

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