George Orwell, the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four, a dystopian novel and cautionary tale, once said, “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.” American statesman and diplomat Benjamin Franklin was far more direct when he wrote: “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”
What a pity no one told Najla Al-Mangoush, the former Foreign Minister in Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh’s Government of National Unity in Libya. Appointed in March 2021 she was much celebrated as the fifth woman to hold the position of a foreign minister in the Arab World, until now, that is. Today, instead of enjoying high office, she has been cast out of the government in disgrace for holding a secret meeting with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in Rome.
How on earth did she imagine that the meeting would remain secret? Tel Aviv rejoices in being loud and vulgar and appears to enjoy leaking information damaging to friend and foe alike. In June, for example, Axios reported that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan “expressed concern that Israel is leaking information to the press about indirect talks between the US and Iran.” This was apparently confirmed by three US and Israeli officials. America, don’t forget, is Israel’s main ally and sponsor-protector in the international community.
Hence, I wasn’t surprised when the secret Rome meeting was exposed to the world by Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, which cited unnamed Israeli officials revealing that the meeting had indeed taken place. Apparently, it was “coordinated at the highest level” between the two countries and took place with the knowledge of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, it has been alleged, Libyan Prime Minister Dbeibeh.
Everyone, including Al-Mangoush (and Dbeibeh), knows that Libya does not recognise Israel and does not have diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. Such relations are forbidden by law in the North African country, so what was she thinking? One can only guess what Israel was up to by leaking the details.
Former British government minister Priti Patel — one of Britain’s first two Asian female MPs — found to her own cost that there’s no such thing as a secret meeting with Tel Aviv. She held undisclosed meetings in Israel without telling the Foreign Office while accompanied by an influential pro-Israel Conservative campaigner. Back in August 2017, she met the leader of one of Israel’s main political parties and made visits to several organisations where official departmental business was reported to have been discussed. According to one source, at least one of the meetings was held at the suggestion of the Israeli ambassador to London. Again, I’m not in the least bit surprised. It was also in 2017 that an Israeli Embassy official was filmed saying that he was going to “take down” Sir Alan Duncan MP, who was a senior Foreign Office Minister at the time.
Britain’s diplomats in Israel were not informed about Patel’s secret visit even though she was compelled by convention to tell the Foreign Office of any official business conducted overseas. According to Downing Street at the time, the International Development Secretary was on a private holiday that she had paid for herself, during which she took the opportunity to meet various people.
The Guardian reported that Patel’s “reassurances collapsed” when it emerged that “[Department for International Development] officials had been asked to explore whether it would be feasible to send UK aid money to the Israeli army for humanitarian work in the occupied [Syrian] Golan Heights.” According to the Guardian, this was followed by a report in Israeli newspaper Haaretz “that Patel had visited an Israeli field hospital in the Golan Heights, a disputed area that the UK does not recognise, and failed to declare it.” It is reasonable to assume, I believe, that details of that visit were leaked to Haaretz by an Israeli government or military source. By November, 2017, Patel — an immigrant shopkeeper’s daughter made good — was forced to resign.
As in Libya, Patel’s secret meetings fuelled all sorts of rumours and speculation about what was discussed. Thankfully, it looks as if calm has been restored in Libya, after Prime Minister Dbeibeh made a very public visit to the Palestinian Embassy in Tripoli to reiterate his government’s support for the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s brutal military occupation.
Palestine thanked Libya on Monday for stressing its refusal to normalise ties with Israel. Dbeibeh “reiterated his absolute support for the Palestinian people in their legitimate quest to regain their full rights and for the establishment of their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” explained the Palestinian Foreign Ministry. “We appreciate the positions expressed by Dbeibeh and his personal attendance at the embassy.”
Nevertheless, I wonder what the ministry thinks about the allegation that Dbeibeh knew that Al-Mangoush was meeting with Cohen? Was the Libyan prime minister testing the water for possible normalisation with Israel?
So far, six Arab countries have established diplomatic ties with Israel, starting with Egypt in 1979, Jordan in 1994, and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in 2020.
Rumours abound that Saudi will soon join the rogue half dozen. There have already been several false rumours, spread by Israel, about secret meetings between Netanyahu and the Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammad Bin Salman.
Personally, I’m still doubtful about this. The kingdom’s official position has always been to toe the line with the Arab League and back the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, under which Israel would only receive “normalised” relations in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians. It is almost certain that if Netanyahu or any of his ministers had held a secret meeting with Bin Salman the details would soon be leaked with photographs and video images. That’s the way the Israelis work. Ask Najla Al-Mangoush. The now former foreign minister knows all about Tel Aviv’s tactics.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.