Gantz and Lapid unite to challenge Netanyahu in Israeli elections
Two leading Israeli opposition figures on Thursday announced a political alliance that they say would see them share the job of prime minister if they are elected to power in April's parliamentary elections.
In a statement, Benny Gantz, a former chief of armed forces and the head of the Israeli Resilience Party, and Yair Lapid, a former finance minister and leader of Yesh Atid, said they had decided to "establish a joint list that will comprise the new Israeli ruling party".
The pair are considered the main centre-right challengers in the 9 April vote to current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009 and has dominated Israeli politics for a generation.
According to the deal, Gantz would serve as prime minister for two and a half years and Lapid would take over for the final 18 months of the government's term if their pair are able to form a coalition.
The alliance is also being backed by Moshe Yaalon, a former defence minister and head of the Telem party.
"The new ruling party will bring forth a cadre of security and social leaders to ensure Israel's security and to reconnect its people and heal the divide within Israeli society," the Israel Resilience Party said in a statement.
Netanyahu cancelled a scheduled visit to Moscow on Thursday following the announcement.
He announced early elections in December in a bid to solidify his right-wing support base, striking alliances Jewish Home and Jewish Power as well as with the far-right followers of Meir Kahane, a rabbi shot dead in New York in 1990 who preached that only Jews should be able to live freely in Israel.
Kahane's Kach party is outlawed in Israel and is considered a terrorist organisation by the US State Department.
Resilience and Yesh Atid have been trailing Netanyahu's Likud by a wide margin, in second and third place, with opinions polls indicating that Likud has a chance to win 30 seats of 120 in Knesset and form a right-wing coalition.
But Netanyahu also faces corruption allegations, with Israel's general prosecutor due to decide later this month whether to indict him or not.
The incumbent prime minister says the allegations are a "witch hunt", while a former vice president of Israel's Supreme Court has compared him to a mafia boss.