The incidents following the secret and controversial meeting between Libyan foreign minister and her Israeli counterpart showed just how unrealistic and delusional are Israel’s hopes to extend the Abraham Accords and normalize relations with other Arab states.
The secret meeting between Libya’s foreign minister Najla al-Mangoush and her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in Rome last week sparked a wave of national protest across Libya, forcing the Libyan government to dismiss the minister.
Fearing her life, al-Mangoush decided to flee the country to Turkey, causing a political turmoil in Tripoli and adding more fuel to the already huge fire of street protests in Libya. The seeds of the current chaos in Libya were indeed planted by Israel as it was the Israeli foreign ministry that unilaterally revealed the news of the meeting between the two sides.
“I spoke with the foreign minister about the great potential for the two countries from their relations,” Cohen said in a statement issued on Sunday from Israel’s foreign ministry. Cohen said the two discussed “the importance of preserving the heritage of Libyan Jews, which includes renovating synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in the country,” and that Libya’s size and strategic location offer “a huge opportunity for the State of Israel”.
Israel’s unilateral revelation of the secret meeting, an own goal!
While it is not clear why Israel did so, the move has now turned out to be an own goal because it only increased the anti-Israeli sentiment among Libyan people. By doing so, Israel in fact showed how little it knows about how carefully the issue of normalization between Israel and Arab states has to be handled.
The massive protests in Libya can even have worse and more extensive impacts on Israel’s project of normalization on the whole because the outcry in Libya is likely to discourage other Arab leaders from seeking closer ties with Israel.
This is especially the case if the Israeli diplomatic service cannot be trusted to keep confidences when it comes to secret meetings and subsequent deals between Israel and an Arab state.
Netanyahu’s attempt to clear up the mess, too late to undo the harm
In an attempt to ease things down and distance himself from the diplomatic fiasco, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement this Tuesday and noted that he had ordered all members of his government not to have secret diplomatic exchanges without informing him in advance. However, it is not clear whether Netanyahu knew of the meeting beforehand.
In a similar attempt by the Libyan government to cover-up the political mess, the Libyan foreign ministry said: “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.”
Since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled the longstanding strongman Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has seen constant chaos. Gaddafi was known for his hostile approach to Israel and he was also a staunch supporter of Palestinians.
The location of the secret meeting between Libya and Israel’s foreign ministers has also caused trouble for a third-party country, Italy. The meeting was in fact a blow to Italy’s rightwing prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, who has invested diplomatic capital in trying to secure a deal between Israel and Libya in the hope of stopping the flow of illegal migrants from Libya to Italy.