(JTA) — Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush has been fired and has fled to Turkey following a meeting last week with Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen.
Libya and Israel do not have diplomatic relations, and when he first announced the meeting on Sunday, Cohen hailed it as another breakthrough in Israel’s growing ties with its neighbors. Israel normalized relations with several Arab countries in 2020 under the framework of the Abraham Accords, and is now publicly exploring an agreement with Saudi Arabia.
The Israel-Libya meeting, which took place in Rome last week, seemed to fall in the same vein. Mangoush represented the internationally-recognized government of Libya that took shape — alongside a rival government — following the fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The countries’ chief diplomats had never met, and news of the discussion, which centered on agriculture and protecting Jewish heritage sites in the country, held out the possibility of yet another future accord.
Instead, the announcement sparked outrage in Libya and has led to criticism of Cohen’s conduct within Israel. Demonstrations that saw the burning of the Israeli flag broke out across Libya, and Mangoush has claimed that the meeting was informal and unplanned, and that she raised the issue of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. (Israel denies that the meeting was impromptu, maintaining that it was an official sit-down.)
Despite that explanation, she was suspended on Sunday and then fired, according to Reuters. Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh confirmed the firing in a visit to the Palestinian embassy in Tripoli on Monday and vowed not to normalize relations with Israel, according to the Libya Observer.
The New York Times quoted unnamed Libyan foreign ministry officials saying Mangoush had flown to Turkey because of safety concerns.
In the wake of the backlash, Israel’s Foreign Ministry is attempting its own damage control, saying in a statement on Monday that it is committed to expanding Israel’s regional ties but that it did not leak the news of the meeting. Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s parliamentary opposition who preceded Cohen as foreign minister, wrote on social media that Cohen’s conduct was “amateurish, irresponsible and a serious error of judgment.”