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Netanyahu admits publicizing Libya meeting ‘not helpful’

In general, Israel has been "very careful" to keep confidential meetings with Arab leaders secret, the PM said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, July 2, 2023. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, July 2, 2023. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday voiced disapproval of the Aug. 26 announcement by Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s office of a secret meeting with the Libyan foreign minister that sparked protests in Tripoli.

“It is not helpful, now that’s clear,” Netanyahu told Cypriot television station ANT1 when asked about the pronouncement, Reuters reported.

“I’ve issued a directive to all our government ministers that such meetings of this kind have to be cleared in advance with my office, and certainly their publication has to be cleared in advance with my office,” the premier said.

There have been “innumerable confidential contacts” between Israeli and Arab leaders that Israel has been careful not to reveal, Netanyahu said. “This is an exception to the rule.”

Cohen met with his counterpart Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush on Aug. 22. The meeting, which took place in Rome, was reportedly brokered by the United States and Italy.

Discussed at the two-hour meeting were diplomatic ties, agricultural and technological cooperation and the possibility that Libya would join the Negev Forum, an outgrowth of the Abraham Accords.

However, when the meeting became public, it triggered outrage in the North African country, which does not recognize Israel.

Mangoush was suspended and then fired, reportedly fleeing to Turkey over safety concerns as people protested on the streets of Tripoli and several other cities.

Israel’s opposition seized upon the political faux pas. Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid wrote on X: “The global community is looking this morning at Israel’s irresponsible leak of the Libya foreign minister’s meeting and asking themselves: Is this a country with which we can conduct foreign relations? Is this a country one can trust?”

The government defended its decision to go public, telling JNS it was up against a wall as an Israeli reporter with knowledge of the meeting was about to reveal it.

“A journalist had info on the meeting and was about to publish it, so we had no choice,” Israeli officials told JNS.

However, the prevailing narrative appears to be that while the Libyans didn’t want any announcement of the meeting in Rome, the Israeli Foreign Ministry was eager to announce it.

“It is a historic meeting, a first step,” Cohen said in the announcement. “There is huge potential in ties between Israel and Libya.”

It is now universally agreed that Cohen’s step was counterproductive and has closed the diplomatic channel to Libya for the present moment.

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