Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, has held his first Cabinet meeting since taking over as leader, promising a functional government despite the political instability that is sending the country to its fifth election in less than four years.
Mr Lapid, sitting next to his predecessor and power-sharing partner Naftali Bennett, also warned that Israel will take any steps necessary to defend itself after it shot down three unmanned aircraft launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Mr Lapid took as prime minister over last week as part of an agreement forged last year which created the coalition government.
Mr Bennett led it initially but stepped down following a series of defections and legislative defeats. Parliament dissolved itself, triggering new elections and handing power to Mr Lapid.
Israel will head to the polls again on November 1, when Mr Lapid will seek to convince voters to adopt his centrist vision and deny former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was ousted last year after more than a decade in power, a chance to return to lead the country. Mr Bennett will not run in November.
Mr Lapid said: “In the coming months our goal, of this whole table, is to run the government as if there is no election campaign. The citizens of Israel deserve a functioning government at any given moment.”
He faced his first challenge on Saturday, when Hezbollah launched its unmanned aircraft towards an area where an Israeli gas platform was recently installed in the Mediterranean Sea.
The move appeared to be an attempt by Hezbollah to influence US-brokered negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border, an area that is rich in natural gas.
“Hezbollah continues its path of terrorism, undermining Lebanon’s ability to reach an agreement on the maritime border. Israel will continue to protect itself, its citizens and its assets,” he said.
Mr Lapid, who served as foreign minister under Mr Bennett, will use his months as caretaker leader to prove to Israelis that he is prime minister material. He travels to Paris this week for meetings and then next week hosts US President Joe Biden, a potential pre-election boost.
The forthcoming election, as with the previous four, is likely to be a referendum on Mr Netanyahu’s fitness to lead at a time when he is on trial for corruption charges.
He denies wrongdoing, but several political parties have refused to join a government led by him, complicating efforts to form coalitions and end the political turmoil.