Yair Lapid takes over as Israel’s 14th prime minister

On his first day, new premier sits down with Shin Bet chief, holds a meeting on the issue of Hamas captives; in first, PM’s office to be headed by woman

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Then-prime minister Yair Lapid (L) holds a meeting with Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 1, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Then-prime minister Yair Lapid (L) holds a meeting with Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 1, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Yair Lapid officially became prime minister at the stroke of midnight between Thursday and Friday, taking office as the 14th premier in Israel’s history.

Lapid’s term leading the country could be a fairly short one, as he takes over a caretaker government ahead of national elections on November 1. But the new prime minister appeared determined to make the most of the potentially brief tenure, and bolster his prospects of winning a full term in four months’ time.

“We’ll do the best we can for a Jewish, democratic state, good and strong and thriving, because that is the job, and it’s bigger than all of us,” Lapid said at a handover ceremony with outgoing prime minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday afternoon.

On his first day in office Friday, Lapid’s first agenda item was a meeting with Ronen Bar, the head of the Shin Bet security agency, at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

A statement from Lapid’s office said the meeting included a “broad defense and intelligence briefing on what is happening on the different fronts.”

Shortly afterward, the new prime minister held a meeting to discuss “the captives and MIAs” — a reference to the two Israeli men and the remains of two IDF soldiers being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

New Prime Minister Yair Lapid holds a meeting with security chiefs at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 1, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The particularly sensitive issue returned to the headlines once again this week after Hamas disseminated a video showing Israeli captive Hisham al-Sayed hooked up to an oxygen mask — the first image of him seen since he crossed into Gaza in 2015.

Hamas is believed to also be holding Avera Mengistu, as well as the remains of soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin. Talks to secure their release have stalled repeatedly over the years.

Yair Lapid seen in the Knesset on June 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In his first few days in office, Lapid is expected to receive congratulatory phone calls from a range of world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, who is slated to touch down in Israel in less than two weeks. Lapid is also scheduled to make a brief trip on July 5 to Paris, where he will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Then-finance minister Yair Lapid meets with then-US vice president Joe Biden in Washington, DC, in 2013. (Courtesy/File)

On Sunday, Lapid is expected to convene the first weekly cabinet meeting of his premiership. Bennett — who announced on Wednesday that he will not run in the next election — is set to remain in the government as alternate prime minister. He will also continue to hold responsibility for the country’s Iran policy.

On Thursday, Lapid announced the full slate of his staff as he gears up to hit the ground running. His prime ministerial office will be headed up by a woman for the first time in Israeli history.

Naama Schultz, a longtime aide to the Yesh Atid leader, will become director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office once Lapid takes over. Schultz served as the head of Lapid’s office when he was alternate prime minister, as well as an adviser when he was finance minister.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett briefs his successor Yair Lapid at the Prime Minister’s Office, June 30, 2022 (Haim Zach / GPO)

Lapid is bringing in a series of other loyalists, including longtime adviser Yair Zivan as his diplomatic adviser, and one of his longest associates, Dani Vesely, as his chief of staff.

But in a nod to continuity, Lapid is keeping on staff four key positions from the Bennett premiership: Shalom Shlomo as cabinet secretary, Avi Gil as military secretary, Eyal Hulata as national security adviser, and Keren Haijoff as his international spokesperson.

File: From right to left: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the first cabinet meeting of the new government, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After the handover ceremony with Bennett Thursday, Lapid and his wife Lihi met with President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal at the President’s Residence.

Herzog congratulated the incoming prime minister and offered him his “help and support, as I have done with any other prime minister, and the same with you.”

Only entering politics a decade ago, the centrist former TV anchor will be the first non-right-wing prime minister since Ehud Barak left office in 2001, and one of the few without significant military experience.

Speaking alongside Bennett when the pair announced earlier this month that the government would fall, Lapid vowed to govern from a position of unity and use his time in office for good.

Incoming Prime Minister Yair Lapid (left) is briefed by his predecessor Naftali Bennett at the Prime Minister’s Office, June 30, 2022 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

“What we need to do today is go back to the concept of Israeli unity,” Lapid said at the press conference. “Not to let dark forces tear us apart from within. To remind ourselves that we love one another, love our country.”

He said he would not ignore economic and security issues during his interim period as prime minister.

“Even if we are going to elections in a few months, the challenges we face will not wait. We need to tackle the cost of living, wage the campaign against Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, and stand against the forces threatening to turn Israel into a non-democratic country,” Lapid said.

He closed his remarks by saying: “Only together will we prevail.”

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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