TRIPOLI, Libya — Monday’s sacking of Libya’s foreign minister, after her Israeli counterpart revealed that they held an unprecedented sit-down in Rome last week, suggests she was the “fall person” for decisions made by Libya’s rival leaders, according to analysts who spoke to AFP.
Oil-rich Libya, which plunged into chaos after dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, has been divided since 2014 between the UN-supported government of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh in Tripoli and a rival administration based in the country’s east.
The analysts argued that Najla Mangoush was paying the price for that rivalry, linking the meeting with United States’ efforts to pressure more Arab countries to normalize ties with Israel.
Al-Ahrar private news channel and the Palestinian embassy in Tripoli both reported her dismissal, with the embassy saying it was announced by Dbeibeh during a visit Monday to the mission. Dbeibeh also declared “his rejection of normalization with Israel” and Libya’s total support for the Palestinian people, the embassy said.
In the east, Libyan lawmakers demanded an investigation into the meeting at a special session during which they wore the checkered black-and-white Palestinian scarf.
The Mangoush-Cohen meeting sparked protests Sunday night in Tripoli and other cities, when demonstrators blocked roads with burning tires and waved Palestinian flags.
Before visiting the Palestinian embassy, Dbeibeh’s government said Mangoush had been “provisionally suspended and subject to an ‘administrative investigation’.”
Following social media reports she had flown to Turkey as protests flared, Libya’s Internal Security Agency (ISA) said she had not been authorized to leave the country and was on a “travel ban list” awaiting investigation.
But Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, citing security sources, said Mangoush had already left for Istanbul following the diplomatic furor.
The Libyan foreign ministry, in a statement, defended the meeting with Cohen as a “chance and unofficial encounter”.
Mangoush had reiterated “in a clear and unambiguous manner Libya’s position regarding the Palestinian cause”, it said, accusing Israel of trying to “present this incident” as a “meeting or talks”.
Libya expert Anas El Gomati of the Sadeq Institute said that Dbeibeh, his rival military strongman Khalifa Haftar and the eastern-based parliament that backs him, all knew about the meeting.
They “have used Libya’s first female foreign minister as the fall person for decisions they all partook in,” Gomati said. “It’s not about politics. It’s blatant scapegoating,” he told AFP.
Fellow analyst Jalel Harchaoui agreed Dbeibeh’s survival is at stake and the meeting was spurred by “pressure” on Libya from both the United Nations and the United States to push ahead with much-delayed presidential and legislative elections.
According to Harchaoui, Dbeibeh “tried to play at diplomacy but failed because he did not evaluate correctly” the response of Libyans opposed to ties with Israel.
“There are talks to create a new interim government between the Dbeibeh and Haftar families brokered in Abu Dhabi instead of holding elections,” said Gomati.
“There has been pressure to join the Abraham Accords and begin the process as a gesture to bolster the deal, which would increase US support,” he said, adding: “Tel Aviv’s backing of Haftar is no secret.”
Israel has normalized ties with some Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, under US-backed deals reached in 2020 and known as the Abraham Accords.
Israel’s foreign ministry quoted Cohen as saying he discussed with Mangoush “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,” Cohen said.
The meeting in Rome had been hosted by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, the Israeli foreign ministry said.
Tajani’s office on Monday referred all questions to the Libyan and Israeli authorities, although an Italian diplomatic source said Tajani had not been present at the meeting.