Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued an order mandating that his office approve all secret diplomatic meetings in advance, his spokesperson said, as officials scrambled to contain the growing diplomatic firestorm over Israel's disclosure that its top diplomat had met with his Libyan Foreign Minister.
Netanyahu sent the directive on Tuesday to all government ministries, requesting they receive approval from his office before conducting any covert political talks.
The order also asked that Netanyahu personally approve the publication of news concerning such sensitive meetings.
A Netanyahu aide, Topaz Luk, said Netanyahu issued the order in response to the fallout from the Libya scandal.
It was not known if Netanyahu knew about Foreign Minister Eli Cohen's meeting with Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush ahead of time.
The exposure of the first-ever known encounter between Israeli and Libyan foreign ministers ignited angry street protests in several Libyan cities and sent Mangoush fleeing to Türkiye for fear of her safety.
Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said he was temporarily suspending Mangoush from her position over the reported meeting.
Israel's Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday that Cohen met Mangoush in Rome last week in what it hailed as a "historic" step toward the normalisation of ties with Libya.
Having established diplomatic ties with Gulf Arab countries, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, during the Donald Trump administration, Netanyahu's government anxiously wants to do so with other Arab states — including Saudi Arabia — to change its status in its long-hostile neighbourhood and end its regional isolation.
But the backlash served as a glaring reminder that despite the warming ties between Israel and the Arab world, challenges remain as ordinary citizens in the region still oppose closer relations with Israel.
Within hours of the revelation, Mangoush was on a plane to Türkiye, Dbeibah announced her suspension, and Netanyahu's political opponents were seizing on the crisis to criticise the foreign minister and his lack of discretion.
A ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes diplomacy, said the ministry was forced to go public after an Israeli news site learned about the meeting.
Israeli media said the acting United States ambassador to Israel, Stephanie Hallett, had expressed American displeasure with the Israeli announcement in a meeting with Cohen on Monday.
The US Embassy had no immediate comment.
In Libya, protests erupted for a second straight night on Monday over the prospect of normalisation with Israel.
Demonstrators set tires ablaze, waved Palestinian national flags and chanted against Dbeibah, the Prime Minister.
The leader of Libya's Tripoli-based administration in the country's west, Dbeibah has defied calls for him to hand over power.
The North African country fell into more than a decade of crisis and repeated episodes of armed conflict after the fall of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in a 2011 uprising.
The country's east and part of the south are under the de facto control of Haftar, who failed to take the capital in 2019-2020.
Presidential and legislative elections were originally scheduled for December 2021 to cap a UN-sponsored peace process following the last bout of large-scale fighting in 2019-20.
However, the polls were postponed indefinitely due to sharp differences over controversial candidates and participation rules.
As a result of the political dialogue process carried out under the facilitation of the United Nations in the 2014-2015 period, the Libyan Political Agreement was signed on 17 December 2015.
The Government of National Accord (GNA) established under this agreement is recognised as the country's only legitimate government.
GNA, however, remained rivalled by Khalifa Hafter until the present.