On Sunday, Israel announced that Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met with his Libyan counterpart, Najla Mangoush, last week in Italy, the first-ever official meeting between the countries’ top diplomats.
Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh quickly distanced himself from the move, suspending Mangoush from her position and launching a probe, while the country’s Foreign Ministry insisted the two diplomats had met accidentally and ruled out any steps toward normalization with Israel.
Following Israel’s announcement of the meeting, various Libyan media outlets pointed to one man as the possible mastermind: Raphael Luzon, chairman of the Union of Libyan Jews.
While Luzon was not connected to the latest diplomatic get-together, in an interview late Sunday with The Times of Israel, he described the first contacts he facilitated between high-ranking Israeli and Libyan officials some six years ago, opening the way to last week’s meeting.
In June 2017, Luzon arranged a meeting on the Greek island of Rhodes that brought together delegations from the two countries. Israel was represented by then-social equality minister Gila Gamliel, whose mother hails from Libya, and by then-communications minister Ayoub Kara, deputy Knesset speaker Yehiel Bar and retired major general Yom Tov Samia, who is also of Libyan extraction.