Generally speaking the month of August is seen as being tranquil. This is the month when most Europeans go on vacation, The US Congress is in recess as well. Therefore we get the impression that people are taking their final break over a summer.
This year August has been full of chaos. The news cycle for the month began with a coup in Niger that removed President Barzoum. Throughout the month there have both efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis amid threats of a military intervention. The situation has not been resolved to the satisfaction of any party within Niger or in the region.
The month ended with controversial elections in both Gabon and Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe the rule of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF was extended while in Gabon an effort by fellow incumbent Ali Bongo to garner a third term was prevented by a Military Coup. However these events were somewhat expected.
How another row managed to catch people by surprise. This was after a meeting that took place on the sidelines a meeting in Rome. Normally that act would not cause mass demonstrations with that being said we have to assume that the individuals that met are the source of the discontent.
Who could have a meeting that could create such a visceral reaction? One of the parties of the meeting was Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. The person that he met with was at that time the Foreign Minister of Libya Najla Mangoush.
Currently neither Israel nor Libya have diplomatic relations with each other. So in the minds of some people this meeting could have hailed as a watershed moment. A sign of Israel able to improve relations with another state in the Maghreb. That would not be the case. When word of the meeting took place there were street protests in Libya denoucing the meeting.
What was the meeting held about? The issue of normalization of relations between these states were raised. Foreign Minister Cohen stated that preserving the heritage of the Libyan Jewish Community notably preserving Synagogues and Cemeteries was a major focus of the talks. Other topics included Israeli assistance in humanitarian affairs and possible Israeli investment in agriculture and water management.
Why did this meeting take place? It has been revealed that the meeting was first proposed in January 2023 when CIA Director Nicholas Burns flew to Tripoli and met with the Prime Minister of the Internationally recgonized government Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and suggested that this meeting take place. One of the eventual goals is to have Libya join the Abraham Accords. Prime Miniser Dbebah did give tenative approval for the meeting.
The key roadblock in this effort is the Palestinian Issue. Traditionally Libya especially during the Qaddafi era was a key ally of the Palestinians. The actions of the Netanyahu Government towards the Palestinians since assuming office appears to be a source of tensions to this day. It can be assumed that the Libyans still support the efforts first put forward by Mr. Arafat.
So why did the backlash take place? Most likely it was because that Foreign Minister Cohen revealed that this meeting took place. Prime Minister Dbebah had concerns regarding details of this meeting becoming public. When it did so he felt he had no choice but to fire then Foreign Minister Mangoush. A member of the opposition in the Knesset Yair Lapid who was the immediate predecessor as Foreign Minister that the actions of Mr. Cohen were “amateurish, irresponsible and a serious error in judgement.”
There is some concern about the impact of this row. The former Foreign Minister has fled to Turkey for her safety. One question is will this row affect the upcoming and often delayed elections in Libya. It is too early to tell right now. If this had taken place closer to December then it would be an interesting factor to track. Does this harm the Netanyahu Government? More likely. The controversial judicial reform law has increased scrutiny over the governance by the Prime Minister. Potential Conflict with Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon are a spectre that haunts Israel.
The question now becomes what is the motivation of the Biden Administration? They have sought to breathe new life into the two state solution. In some areas they have sought to undo the actions of the Trump Administration especially when it comes to Iran and other Middle East issues.Could this have been done in an attempt to embarras the Netanyahu Ministry? relations between the two leaders are considered to be chilly at this time.
This situation is bizarre to put it bluntly if there were plans to have a meeting official or not why announce it? Instead of one party being embarrased both Israel and Libya end up with blackeyes.