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Netanyahu to vet all secret meetings after Libya fallout

Israeli FM Eli Cohen reiterated that his ministry did not leak last week's meeting with his Libyan counterpart.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 13, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 13, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

In the wake of the Libya fiasco, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday instructed government ministers to get his personal approval in advance of and for the release for publication of any secret diplomatic meetings.

The clarification from Netanyahu’s office comes after the revelation of a meeting last week between Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and his Libyan counterpart ingited a diplomatic firestorm.

Cohen reiterated late Monday that his office did not leak to the press the encounter in Rome with Najla Mangoush.

“It is a shame that political opponents who did not promote any significant achievement rush to react without knowing the details and blame a leak that did not exist,” Cohen wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“The attacks will not deter the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its excellent employees from continuing to work tirelessly for the State of Israel and for creating and strengthening ties with our many friends in the world, and in the Arab world in particular,” he continued.

Cohen’s X post followed a statement earlier in the day from the Foreign Ministry denying that it was the source of the leak.

The Foreign Ministry on Sunday revealed the meeting between Cohen and Mangoush. The publicizing of the diplomatic encounter caused outrage in the North African country, which does not recognize the Jewish state. Mangoush was suspended and then fired, reportedly fleeing to Turkey over safety concerns as people protested on the streets of the capital Tripoli and several other cities.

Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush in 2022. Credit: Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The political opposition in Israel criticized Cohen and the Netanyahu-led government for making the meeting public.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, Israel’s previous prime minister and foreign minister, had harsh words on Monday for Cohen’s handling of the diplomatic exchange.

“The global community is looking this morning at Israel’s irresponsible leak of the Libya foreign ministers meeting, and asking themselves: Is this a country with which we can conduct foreign relations? Is this a country one can trust?” Lapid wrote on X.

“The incident with the Libyan foreign minister is amateurish, irresponsible and a serious failure of judgment. This is a morning of national disgrace and risking human life for a headline,” the Yesh Atid Party leader continued.

In his X post, Cohen defended the work of the Foreign Ministry since he took over from Lapid at the end of last year.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs works regularly through overt and covert channels, and in a variety of covert ways to strengthen Israel’s connections in the world.

“The ministry’s many achievements in the past year, including the opening of Oman’s skies to flights, a trade agreement with the United Arab Emirates, 2 new embassies of Muslim countries, 3 embassies that will move to Jerusalem, and more, would not have matured without discreet preparatory actions and leading secret moves through many channels,” Cohen wrote.

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