New Israel elections loom as Gantz says can't form govt

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an extended faction meeting of the right-wing bloc members at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (AP)
Updated 20 November 2019

New Israel elections loom as Gantz says can't form govt

  • If Israel is forced into a third election, it would be entering uncharted waters, with opinion polls already predicting a very similar deadlock

JERUSALEM: Israel edged ever closer to a third general election in a year Wednesday, as Benny Gantz announced his Blue and White coalition -- the winner of the most seats in September's national poll -- was unable to form a government.
The centrist former army general, whose party was narrowly ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud after those elections, said he had tried everything during his 28-day negotiation period to secure a majority in Israel's 120-seat parliament.
"I raised every stone to try and form a national unity government," he said in a speech after informing President Reuven Rivlin he would be handing back the mandate.
"I ran into a wall of losers who did everything to prevent Israeli citizens from benefitting from a government under my leadership."
Incumbent Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009, had been the first to be handed a 28-day negotiation period by Rivlin, but was unsuccessful in the task of forming a coalition, prompting the president to give Gantz the same opportunity.
Rivlin will now hand the mandate to the Israeli parliament, which has three weeks to try and find a candidate capable of getting the backing of the majority of the country's 120 lawmakers.
If that period passes without a breakthrough, new elections will be called for early 2020 -- the third national polls within 12 months.
Polls held last April also led to stalemate in a proportional system reliant on coalition building.
Netanyahu, who is fighting corruption allegations he denies, would remain caretaker leader until the new elections.
Netanyahu responded immediately after Gantz's announcement, saying he remained open to talks in the coming weeks.
"Israel needs a government of national unity and that is why in the name of the security of Israel and in the name of the will of the people, we must form this government together," he said, addressing Gantz.
Gantz's negotiation period was due to expire at midnight Wednesday but his hopes of forming a government were in effect dashed at lunchtime when potential kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman announced he would not back him.
The former defence minister's Yisrael Beitenu party has eight seats and held the balance of power between Gantz's and Netanyahu's blocs.
Lieberman had refused to join either coalition, accusing Gantz of being reliant upon the support of Israel's Arab parties and Netanyahu of being slave to the whims of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.
Instead, the former defence minister favoured forming a unity government between his party, Likud and Blue and White.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu said they supported the proposal -- which would entail rotating the premiership -- but disagreed who should be prime minister first.
Talks had continued late into Tuesday but collapsed into mutual accusations of blame.
Lieberman said both Gantz and Netanyahu had put their personal interests ahead of the country's.
"If we are dragged to new elections it will be because of a lack of leadership," he said.
A 60-year-old former paratrooper, Gantz had no previous political experience when he declared himself Netanyahu's electoral rival in December.
But he has posed the most serious challenge to Netanyahu since he became premier in 2009.
New elections would be deeply unpopular with the public, but columnist Ben Caspit, writing in the Maariv daily Wednesday morning, said they were now all but inevitable.
"The path towards establishing a government in Israel has never been at a greater impasse," he wrote.
"We are going to need a miracle to avert a third election."
Netanyahu also faces a threat to his political career from the corruption allegations.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is due to decide by December whether to charge him over a series of accusations he denies.
An indictment might permanently damage Netanyahu's support, whereas a reprieve could give him a new lease of life.


US considering troop boost to counter Iran

Updated 42 min 12 sec ago

US considering troop boost to counter Iran

  • A source has said Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East
  • Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions

WASHINGTON: The United States said Thursday it was considering deploying fresh forces to counter Iran, with an official saying some 5,000 to 7,000 troops could head to the region.
Testifying before Congress, John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said the United States was “observing Iran’s behavior with concern.”
“We’re continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture,” Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A US official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East.
The official did not confirm where the troops would be sent, or in what timeframe, but said that the deployment would be due to frustrations with Iranian-linked groups’ attacks on US assets.
Rood, under questioning, denied a report by The Wall Street Journal the United States was considering sending 14,000 more troops — equivalent to the number sent over the past six months.
Esper also denied the 14,000 figure in a phone call with Senator Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the committee, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said.
US President Donald Trump later tweeted that: “The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!“
It was not immediately clear which report the president was referring to.
Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions, including trying to block all its oil exports.
In September, the United States said Iran was responsible for attacks on the major Abqaiq oil processing center in Saudi Arabia, a close US ally and Iran’s regional rival.
Riyadh then asked Washington for reinforcements, receiving two fighter squadrons, additional missile defense batteries, and bringing the number of US troops stationed in the Kingdom to about 3,000.
The United States has also been alarmed by an uptick in attacks on bases in Iraq, where major demonstrations triggered by economic discontent have also targeted Iran’s clerical regime and its overwhelming influence in its Shiite-majority neighbor.
“We’re lucky no one has been killed. There is a spike in rocket attacks,” another US official said.
“It’s clearly not Daesh. Everything is going in the right direction and it’s the right range,” the official said, contrasting Iranian capabilities with those of the extremist Daesh group.
Among the incidents, five rockets hit the Al-Asad Air Base on Tuesday, just four days after US Vice President Mike Pence visited US troops there.
Iran denied involvement in the September attack in Saudi Arabia, which was claimed by Tehran-backed Houthi militia.
The tensions come as Iran itself has faced major protests set off by a sharp hike in gas prices.