Netanyahu rivals team up in formidable election challenge

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Reuters pic)

JERUSALEM: The challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heated up as his most serious rival teamed with another large opposition party to run on a joint ticket in Apr 9 elections.

Former military chief Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and former Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid announced early Thursday that they would run jointly, saying they were “motivated by national responsibility.”

The unity move paved the way for a third ex-military chief, Gabi Ashkenazi, to join the list.

Former military chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon and his Telem party had joined earlier.

While polls have shown Netanyahu’s Likud party best poised to form the next government, with the support of religious and nationalist partners, it’s not clear whether this opposition alliance will change the picture.

Polls have been divided on that score and preceded consolidation moves in Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc.

Two religious nationalist parties joined forces on Wednesday.

Under the agreement, Gantz and Lapid would rotate as prime minister if their alliance forms the next government.

Gantz, whose party has been polling strongest, would serve first.

Likud has been trying to paint Gantz, whose security positions hew close to Netanyahu’s, as a reckless leftist whose government would have to depend on the support of Arab parties.

In a statement following his alliance with Lapid, it said: “The choice is clear. Either a leftist Lapid-Gantz government backed by a blocking majority of Arab parties or a right-wing government led by Netanyahu.”