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Son of Libyan warlord reported to visit Israel, offer ties in return for backing

Saddam Haftar said to carry message from his father requesting ‘military and diplomatic’ assistance in return for a pledge to normalize relations with the Jewish state

Libyan militia commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, August 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)
Libyan militia commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, August 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)

The son of Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar reportedly visited Israel last week for a secret meeting with Israeli officials in which he offered to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries in return for Israeli support.

Saddam Haftar, who is said to be eyeing Libya’s presidency in its December 23 elections, landed at Ben Gurion Airport last Monday on a private French-made Dassault Falcon jet, which stopped briefly in Israel on its way from Dubai to Libya, the Haaretz daily reported Monday.

The paper said it was not known which Israeli officials he met during the short visit but that he had previously been in contact with the “Tevel” department of the Mossad spy agency, which deals with countries Israel doesn’t have relations with.

According to the report, Haftar carried a message from his father requesting Israeli “military and diplomatic assistance” in return for a pledge to establish a normalization process between Libya and Israel akin to the Abraham Accords establishing relations between the Jewish state and United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

Israel has no official ties with Libya, which was a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, especially under dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was overthrown in 2011.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a civil war toppled long-time dictator  Gaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive aimed at capturing Tripoli in 2019, is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the Tripoli-based militias are aided by Qatar, Italy and Turkey.

Forces loyal to Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) gesture on April 18, 2019, after taking control of the area of al-Aziziyah, located some 40 kilometers south of the Libyan capital Tripoli, following fierce clashes with forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar (Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

Israel has avoided taking a public stance on the war, despite allegations of Israeli involvement behind the scenes. However, Israel is widely seen as being aligned with Egypt and the Gulf states.

In a rare interview with an Israeli newspaper last year, a senior Libyan official with Haftar’s eastern-based rebel government called on Israel for support.

“We never were and never will be enemies, and we hope you will support us. It is only circumstance which has separated us up until this point,” Abdul Salam al-Badri, deputy prime minister in the government affiliated with, Haftar told Makor Rishon.

Al-Badri played up Libya’s historic Jewish community, which he described as leaving a legacy of tolerance, and said his government supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Throughout history, we have served as a refuge for people of all faiths. We have a long history of contact with the people of Israel and the Jewish community,” he said.

While the Libyan Jewish community dates back thousands of years, most Jews  fled the country in 1949 amid rising anti-Semitism following Israel’s establishment. Successive pogroms against Jews in the country and laws restricting Jewish civil liberties encouraged still more to emigrate. By the time Gaddafi rose to power in the 1960s, few were left.

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