Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his wife Lihi on Saturday moved into a “secure” apartment in Jerusalem, as the nearby Prime Minister’s Residence is undergoing renovations to upgrade its security.
The apartment, which already has security in place, is within the compound on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street where the official premier’s residence is located.
The Shin Bet security agency’s head, Ronen Bar, told Lapid during a meeting Friday that “most of the infrastructure shortcomings detailed in the State Comptroller’s report” have yet to be fixed, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
“It was agreed that [the Shin Bet] would examine the fastest course of action in order to expedite the security and infrastructure renovation at the Balfour residence,” the statement said.
Lapid will meanwhile stay at the Shin Bet’s “secure compound” — an apartment that has served as a barracks for Shin Bet guards and before that was used by the Guatemalan embassy.
The Shin Bet will also install security measures at Lapid’s private Tel Aviv home. Bar said they will be “necessary and minimal,” so as to not disrupt the routine of Lapid’s neighbors.
The Shin Bet chief also told Lapid that to cut costs, existing security measures will be transferred from other areas, according to the premier’s office.
Lihi Lapid shared a photo of the apartment on social media.
“A new beginning,” she wrote in the post.
The couple’s move to Jerusalem came after Lapid became prime minister at midnight between Thursday and Friday, after the Knesset dissolved and new elections were called for November 1 following the collapse of his power-sharing government with Naftali Bennett, who had served as premier for the past year.
Bennett came under fire for living at his family home in Ra’anana rather than moving to the official residence. The Balfour facility was being renovated under orders from the Shin Bet security service, but Bennett’s critics and neighbors slammed the cost and nuisance of the layers of security that were added in his hometown.
Neighbors also had to deal with the noise of regular protests against the prime minister.
Lapid’s decision to move to Jerusalem appeared aimed at avoiding similar criticism as he lives in the densely populated Tel Aviv, meaning securing the area around his house would be costly.
For years, Balfour became nearly synonymous with the 12-year reign of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Over Netanyahu’s final year in office, swelling protests near the residence became a weekly feature of life in Jerusalem, with tens of thousands joining every Saturday night.
The Balfour residence has been uninhabited since Netanyahu left in July.
Bennett never moved into the residence over the course of his year in office, as the Shin Bet security service hoped to renovate the building for security purposes. Bennett also said he did not want to disrupt his children’s education by making them switch schools. It is unclear when the upgrades at Balfour will be complete.
Bennett has since said remaining at home in Ra’anana was a mistake.
He said he “would have taken a sleeping bag, entered Balfour and started to work” had he known the complications and outcry that would arise from the decision to stay in his family home.
With the premier absent, pedestrians were offered a rare opportunity to stroll about along the normally closed-off section of Balfour Street. Tightened restrictions will likely return should Lapid or another prime minister return to the official residence in the future.