Citing recent warnings by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said the possibility of conflict necessitated the swift formation of a broad unity government to respond to security threats.
“The Middle East is again in turmoil,” Netanyahu said during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria are in turmoil, and Iran controls all these areas. We need to make tough decisions that require a broad-shouldered government.”
“Iran’s actions in the Middle East require very difficult decisions. What is said by the chief of staff is not spin — it is a reflection of the situation — so establishing a broad government is a top security issue.”
Netanyahu failed to negotiate a coalition following last month’s Knesset election, prompting him to declare that he was unable to form a government and causing President Reuven Rivlin to tap his primary rival Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff who heads the centrist Blue and White Party, to try his hand at bringing together Israel’s disparate political factions.
The prime minister is set to meet with Gantz in Tel Aviv on Sunday, the Likud and Blue and White parties said in a joint statement on Saturday. The meeting will take place Sunday afternoon at the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv following an invitation by Gantz.
Gantz received the mandate to form a government from Rivlin on Wednesday evening and has already begun speaking with party leaders and sending out invitations to meet to negotiate their potential entry into the Blue and White-led coalition he hopes to establish.
According to reports in the Hebrew media, Gantz could offer Netanyahu a “compromise deal” that would force him to choose between including his religious allies in the coalition and being prime minister first in any premiership rotation deal.
Likud has stressed that Netanyahu is negotiating on behalf of the 55-member bloc of right-wing and religious parties loyal to him, without whom he will not enter a coalition. Blue and White has previously rejected this negotiation position outright.
Netanyahu’s remarks at Sunday’s cabinet meeting came on the heels of Kohavi’s warning last Thursday that Israel is facing a threat of conflict in both the north and the south, forcing the military to rapidly prepare for war.
“In the northern and southern arenas the situation is tense and precarious and poised to deteriorate into a conflict despite the fact that our enemies are not interested in war. In light of this, the IDF has been in an accelerated process of preparation,” Kohavi said.
In a briefing to reporters, the IDF chief said the primary threat facing Israel comes from Iran and its proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
“The main strategic threat to the State of Israel lies in the northern arena: with the entrenchment of Iranian and other forces in Syria, and with [the Hezbollah terror group’s] precision missile project,” Kohavi said, referring to an effort by the Iran-backed Lebanese militia to develop highly accurate long-range projectiles.
Israel sees precision-guided missiles as a far greater threat than that posed by Hezbollah’s existing arsenal of more than 100,000 rockets and missiles as the improved projectiles could easily overpower the IDF’s air defense systems and destroy the country’s critical infrastructure, something the terror group would struggle to do with its current arsenal.