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Libya’s political crisis runs deeper than Israel debacle

The diplomatic firestorm unfolding in Libya comes as the United States is pushing the North African country to hold long-awaited nationwide elections.
Libyan Foreign Affairs Minister Najla Mangoush holds a press conference at the end of the Arab foreign ministers meeting in the capital Tripoli, on Jan. 22, 2023.

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WASHINGTON —  At first glance, war-ravaged and politically fractured Libya is an unlikely candidate for normalizing relations with Israel’s far-right government. For starters, it's unclear whether the unelected, embattled Tripoli-based government even has the authority to enter into such an agreement with Israel. 

The public disclosure of Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s meeting in Rome last week with Najla el-Mangoush quickly set off protests across Libya, where public support for Israel normalization polls in the single digits and establishing relations with the Jewish state remains a criminal act under a 1957 law.  

The uproar threatens the relative calm Libya is now enjoying 12 years after a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Two rival governments in the east and west, each supported by their own set of foreign backers and armed militias, are now jostling for control of the oil-rich country of 7 million people. Repeated UN-led attempts to hold elections have failed. 

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