Why Libya’s Foreign Minister Met With Israeli Diplomat – OpEd


Libya’s foreign minister, Najla EL-Mangoush, was suspended from her post and fled the country after Israel revealed that its chief diplomat met with her. That news prompted scattered street protests in the chaos-stricken North African nation.

El-Mangoush flew to Turkey after reports emerged that she had met with her Israeli counterpart. On the other hand, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah suspended El-Mangoush and referred her for an investigation over the meeting; he said that meeting was the first ever between top diplomats of the two countries.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Mangoush met in Rome to discuss Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, which have led to a cooling of its burgeoning ties with the Arab world. Mangoush wants to re-establish relations with Arab countries and may have chosen Libya as a new land for investment. On the other hand, Cohen discussed the importance of preserving the heritage of Libya’s former Jewish community, including renovating synagogues and cemeteries.

There has been no formal diplomatic agreement between Israel and Libya since Libya’s independence, and the main reason for Libya’s antagonism towards Israel has been its support for the Palestinians. This was under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi. Morover, the historical relation: In 1951, with the declaration of Libya’s independence, there was an extensive operation to bring Libyan Jews to Israel, but it did not succeed because the Ministry of Aliyah expelled the activists and did not allow Israeli ships to visit its ports, and the vote at the United Nations on the inclusion of Libya to the Organization and Israel voted in favor of Libyan admission to the Organization, while on the other side Libya joined the Arab League and the Arab boycott of Israel.

Today, Israel wants to restore the relationship established by Israeli assistance for humanitarian issues, agriculture, and water management. While the Libyan Foreign Ministry mentions that the meeting was an unofficial one without any agreements or consultations,

Dbeibah’s decision to suspend the minister was based on the fact that he was not aware of the meeting she had with the other side by herself. However, he gave the green light for the meeting last month in Rome. El-Mangoush flew to Turkey out of fear for her safety amid a growing uproar in their country over news about the meeting with her Israeli counterpart in Rome.

Cohen described the first step in ties between Israel and Libya. The great size and strategic location afford huge importance to contacts with it and huge potential for Israel, as well as the potential benefits of expanding relations and the importance of preserving Jewish heritage in Libya, including renovating synagogues and Jewish cemeteries such as Tripoli Jewish Cemetery and scampering about debris littered with human remains. “Over the years, we have made efforts to preserve or restore communal Jewish sites in war-torn Libya, but now we need to retrace that back: hundreds of Libyan Jews died in concentration camps operated by Nazi-allied Italy in 1945, 1948, and 1967”. The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, which seeks to document the experiences of Jews around the globe, is now asking people about any information about Jews buried in Libya to reach out to them. Another effort is in line with other initiatives that aim to rebuild extinct Jewish communities online, such as Diarna, a massive website that allows users to live in North Africa and the Middle East, where Jews used to live, but now the effort is focusing on the cemeteries of Libya during World War II, where 40,000 Jews lived in communities with a centuries-long history.

Finally, the Libyan Foreign Ministry’s statement painted the meeting in a very different light, portraying the meeting as a chance encounter at best and the discussions as support for the Palestinian cause, and reiterated Libya’s and her rejection of normalization with the Zionist entity. 

However, Israeli officials added that the meeting had been long planned and that Israeli and Libyan officials had discussed it in advance. Prior understanding that the fact of the meeting would be made public very soon, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity involved. That assertion, fueled suspicions that despite Abdul Hamid Dbeiba authorizing the move from the first, he now understands that the sense of political crisis in Libya has long been split between two rival governments, where he has defied growing pressure from other political players to give up power. The situation with Israel was different because they wanted to take advantage of the oil-rich North African nation that has been mired in chaos and violence for years in the country.

Prof. Miral Sabry AlAshry

Prof. Miral Sabry AlAshry is Co-lead for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at the Centre for Freedom of the Media, the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield.

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