Netanyahu returns to power with extreme-right government

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Israel’s hawkish veteran Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister Thursday after a stint in opposition, heading what analysts call the most right-wing government in the country’s history.

Netanyahu, 73, who is fighting corruption charges in court, had already served as premier longer than anyone in Israeli history, leading the country from 1996-1999 and 2009-2021.

“This is the sixth time I’m presenting a government that I’m heading to get parliament’s support, and I’m excited like the first time,” Netanyahu told the Knesset ahead of his swearing-in ceremony.

Parliament voted to approve his government and elected former minister Amir Ohana as the Knesset’s speaker, the first openly gay occupant of the post.

Netanyahu, who casts himself as the guarantor of his country’s security, stressed that his top goal would be “to thwart Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal” and “ensure Israel’s military superiority in the region.”

But he also voiced hopes of “expanding the circle of peace with Arab countries” following US-brokered normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

Former Israeli intelligence minister Eli Cohen, an architect of the normalization agreements, was named as foreign minister.

Netanyahu was ousted in June 2021 by a motley coalition of leftists, centrists and Arab parties headed by right-winger Naftali Bennett and former TV news anchor Yair Lapid. It didn’t take him long to come back.

Following his November 1 election win, Netanyahu entered into talks with ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right parties, among them Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism formation and Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party.

Both have a history of inflammatory remarks about Palestinians.—AFP