Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush has fled the country after a secret meeting with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in Rome last week sparked a public outcry and political turmoil in the war-torn nation. Mangoush, who was appointed by the UN-backed Government of National Unity (GNU) in March, was dismissed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah on Sunday after the Israeli Foreign Ministry revealed the meeting on its official Twitter account.
The meeting, which was hosted by Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, was described by Cohen as the first of its kind between the two countries and a “historic step” towards normalizing relations. Cohen said he discussed with Mangoush the potential for cooperation in various fields, including energy, security, trade, and tourism. He also said he raised the issue of preserving the heritage of Libyan Jews, who were forced to leave the country in the 1960s.
However, the meeting provoked a strong backlash in Libya, where many people view Israel as an enemy and support the Palestinian cause. Protests erupted in several cities, including Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata, and Sabha, where demonstrators burned Israeli flags and chanted slogans against Mangoush and Dbeibah. Some protesters also called for the withdrawal of Turkish troops and mercenaries from Libya, accusing them of interfering in the country’s affairs.
The Presidential Council, a three-member body that acts as the head of state under the GNU, issued a statement condemning the meeting as a violation of Libya’s laws and policies that prohibit any form of normalization with the “Zionist entity”. The council also demanded that Dbeibah take immediate action against Mangoush and hold her accountable for her “unauthorized” act.
Dbeibah, who is facing mounting pressure from various factions and militias that back his fragile government, announced that he had suspended Mangoush and referred her to an investigation committee. He also said he was unaware of the meeting and had not authorized it. He claimed that Mangoush had met with Cohen by chance during a meeting with Tajani and that no agreements or consultations had taken place.
However, Mangoush denied Dbeibah’s claims and said she had informed him of the meeting beforehand and had received his approval. She also defended her decision to meet with Cohen, saying it was in line with Libya’s national interests and aimed at exploring possible ways to end the conflict in the region. She said she had raised Libya’s support for the Palestinian cause and its rejection of Israel’s occupation and settlements.
Mangoush reportedly left Libya on Monday and headed to Turkey, where she is expected to seek asylum or travel to another country. Her departure has left a vacuum in Libya’s foreign policy and raised questions about the future of the GNU, which is supposed to lead the country to national elections in December. The GNU is also facing challenges from rival authorities in eastern Libya, led by General Khalifa Haftar, who oppose its legitimacy and have close ties with Russia and Egypt.
The meeting between Mangoush and Cohen has also strained Libya’s relations with Italy, which has been a key partner in supporting Libya’s stability and reconstruction. Italy has significant interests in Libya’s oil sector and has been working to curb illegal migration from Libya to Europe. Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has expressed her disappointment over the meeting and said it was a “mistake” that could jeopardize Italy’s efforts to help Libya.