Mauritania on Friday expelled Israeli Ambassador Miki Arbel and his staff from the overwhelmingly Muslim West African nation in protest over Operation Cast Lead. While expressing disappointment over Nouakchott's decision to sever ties, Israeli officials were confident that relations would eventually be restored. Ties had been strained between Israel and Mauritania - one of only three Arab League countries, along with Egypt and Jordan, to have full relations with Jerusalem - since the military campaign in Gaza. In January, Mauritania suspended contacts with Israel to protest the IDF operation in Gaza, and earlier that month, the country recalled its ambassador from Israel for consultations amid street protests over the offensive. Army Radio quoted Jerusalem officials as saying that the embassy in Nouakchott could no longer operate because Mauritanian authorities on Friday morning had ordered it to dismantle security around the building and remove the Israeli guards. Ahmed Abdallah, a senior member of the anti-Mauritania junta group, The National Front for the Defense of Democracy, linked the timing of the government's move to the upcoming visit of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The newly elected head of the African Union reportedly said he would not visit Nouakchott unless ties with Israel were cut. Qatar, the only Gulf Arab state to maintain relations Israel, froze them in January and asked Israel to close its trade office in Doha. The latest developments leave Israel's relations with the Arab world at their lowest level since 2000, when Morocco, Tunisia and Oman broke off low-level ties at the start of the second intifada.