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Aug 29, 2023, 8:50am EDT
Middle East
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Libya’s foreign minister flees after Israel backlash

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Demonstrators gather in front of the state broadcaster's building in protest against the meeting which was held last week in Italy between foreign affairs ministers of Libya and Israel, in Tripoli, Libya, August 29, 2023. REUTERS /Ayman al-Sahili
REUTERS /Ayman al-Sahili
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Former Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush fled her country over safety concerns after she was fired for meeting her Israeli counterpart for unofficial talks. The meeting in Rome last week, which sought to normalize ties between the two nations, was publicized by Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on social media, sparking protests in pro-Palestinian Libya.

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Cohen’s decision to tweet about the meeting shocked allies, including in the U.S. Israel has been working to normalize relations with some Middle Eastern states in recent years, but Cohen’s meeting with Mangoush was unprecedented. According to The Times of Israel, the U.S. knew about the talks and had encouraged Mangoush to attend, believing them to be secret.1 A U.S. official told Al Jazeera that Cohen’s decision to announce the meeting had made seeking normalization in other nations more difficult, and simultaneously damaged conversations with Libya.2

Publicizing the meeting was a way to score short-term political points for Cohen — but it’s a gamble that backfired. On X, formerly known as Twitter, Yonatan Touval, of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, posted that senior officials from Israel’s foreign affairs ministry were criticizing Cohen’s behavior, adding that he had thrown “Israeli diplomacy down the drain” in his rush for attention.3

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Yonatan Touval, X.com

Libya’s government is attempting to downplay the meeting, saying that it was a chance encounter. But Riccardo Fabiani of the International Crisis Group told the Financial Times it was unlikely that Mangoush would have met with Cohen without the green light from Tripoli. “Obviously the move backfired and there was a backlash so [the prime minister] is protecting himself by sacrificing Mangoush,” Fabian told the outlet.4

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