Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah said on Sunday evening on Facebook that the chief diplomat would be subjected to an “administrative investigation”. While Cohen described the meeting as a “first step” in the two countries’ relations, the Libyan Foreign Ministry described it as an unofficial “chance encounter”.
Prime Minister Dbeibah explained that the foreign minister’s actions are now being examined by a commission chaired by the justice minister. Libya and Israel do not have diplomatic relations. What happened in Rome was “a chance and unofficial encounter” during a meeting between al-Mangush and her Italian colleague Antonio Tajani, the Foreign Ministry in Tripoli said on Sunday. “There was no discussion, agreement or consultation,” it said in a statement.
Rather, the minister “reaffirmed Libya’s position on the Palestinian cause in a clear and unequivocal manner.” Al-Mangush “refused to speak to any party” representing Israel and “categorically” maintained that stance. The ministry also condemned “the exploitation of the incident by Israeli and international media.”
Politically motivated meeting
Cohen’s office previously announced that the two foreign ministers met in Rome last week. Accordingly, the meeting was hosted by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani. Israel described it as the first such diplomatic initiative between the two countries. The meeting was about “the great potential of the relationship between the two countries,” said the statement from Jerusalem. This is a “first step in Israel-Libya relations,” Cohen said. “Libya’s size and strategic location present an immense opportunity for the State of Israel,” it said.
The “preservation of the Jewish heritage” in Libya was also discussed, including the renovation of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. After the military coup by longtime Libyan ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi in 1969, the last remaining Jews in the country were expelled, their property confiscated and synagogues destroyed.
The announcement of the meeting triggered massive protests in Libya. The three-member Presidential Council, which represents Libya’s three regions, has demanded “clarification” from the government, the Libyan television channel al-Ahrar TV reported, citing a letter from council spokeswoman Najiwa Wheba.
The letter, confirmed by the spokeswoman, said the meeting did not reflect “the foreign policy of the Libyan state” nor “the national Libyan constants”. It is “considered a violation of Libyan laws criminalizing normalization with the Zionist entity.” The Council called on the Prime Minister to take legal action against the minister if the meeting took place.
At the same time, numerous people took to the streets in Tripoli and several suburbs of the capital to protest against a possible normalization of relations with Israel. The protests later spread to other cities, where protesters blocked roads, burned tires and waved the Palestinian flag.
Israel and Libya
Israel has normalized its ties with some Arab countries since 2020 under the US-brokered Abraham Accords, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. However, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently drawn increased criticism from a number of Arab states because of the increasing violence in the West Bank and the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories that it advocates.
Chaos and violence have reigned in Libya since the fall and violent death of ruler Gaddafi in 2011. Armed militias and foreign mercenaries are fighting each other. The UN-recognized interim government in the capital Tripoli in the west is fighting for power in the country with a counter-government in the east. The counter-government is supported by the local parliament and the powerful General Chalifa Haftar. Planned elections were repeatedly postponed.