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US promises 'ironclad' support for whoever leads Israel

An opposition coalition formed a government on Wednesday that could bring an end to Netanyahu's 12-year reign
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz at the Pentagon in Washington, on 3 June 2021 (AFP/Saul Loeb)

The United States said on Thursday that its "ironclad" support would remain in place for whoever leads Israel, with a coalition of opposition parties from across the political spectrum seeking to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after more than a decade in power.

A group of eight parties, including some unlikely political allies, such as the United Arab List (UAL) and Yisrael Beiteinu, reached an agreement on Wednesday to form a new coalition government.

Under the agreement, the head of the right-wing Yamina party, Naftali Bennett, who has said he has no problem with killing Arabs and has urged the bombing of Gaza, would serve as prime minister for two years before handing the position over to Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party.

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"We're not going to speak to government formation while it's in process," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Thursday, after Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

"Regardless of what happens, regardless of what government is in place, our stalwart support, our ironclad support for Israel will remain."

Earlier, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said: "The President has expressed his full support for replenishing Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system, which saved so many innocent lives during the most recent conflict." He gave no further details.

On Tuesday, US Senator Lindsey Graham announced on Fox News that Israel would ask for an additional $1bn in American aid to replenish its rocket defence system. The US-funded Iron Dome system was used frequently to repel Hamas rockets in May, as Israel dropped US-made bombs on the Gaza Strip.

"Now, going forward, we seek lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians alike," Austin said, before pledging his support for a two-state solution.

During his visit to the US, Gantz did not visit President Joe Biden, AFP reported.

Down but not out

Wednesday's announcement by the opposition coalition does not immediately end Netanyahu's grip on power, as lawmakers will need to vote on the deal, a vote which is expected next week. 

While Netanyahu remains at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem's Balfour Street, he is likely to deploy every card at his disposal to make the new administration fail before it has even begun. He is expected to continue his attempts to persuade lawmakers to defect so that Lapid and Bennett do not have a majority - 61 seats - in the 120-seat Knesset.

In his first public remarks since the announcement, Netanyahu called on "all Knesset members elected by right-wing votes" to oppose the new coalition, describing the "left-wing" Lapid-Bennett government as "dangerous".

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