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Gantz (L) with Netanyahu. Photo: Gali Tibbon/Pool/AFP via Getty

Israel's governing coalition is falling apart, setting the stage for the fourth election in two years.

Driving the news: Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced tonight that his Blue and White party would vote in favor of dissolving parliament on Wednesday because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — Gantz's political rival turned coalition partner — was refusing to pass a budget and reneging on their power-sharing deal.

“Netanyahu promised no tricks and a responsible management of the COVID-19 crisis. ... He didn’t lie to me — he lied to you. He led on the Israeli people."
— Benny Gantz

Why it matters: Wednesday's vote is only a preliminary step, but it will set an almost irreversible course toward early elections next March.

State of play: The government needs to pass its 2020 budget by Dec. 23 to survive, but Gantz is insisting that Netanyahu also agree to pass the 2021 budget by then.

  • That would make it legally impossible for Netanyahu to back out of the coalition agreement under which Gantz is to rotate in as prime minister on Nov. 17, 2021.
  • Between the lines: When that agreement was announced last April, many analysts doubted that Netanyahu would ever willingly give up the prime minister's post.

What they're saying: Gantz said he joined the power-sharing government due to the COVID-19 crisis and had no illusions about Netanyahu, whom he called “a serial promise-breaker."

  • He accused Netanyahu of worrying only about his political survival and about saving himself from the corruption trial that is set to resume in two months.
  • Gantz added that if the elections take place, he will try to form a broad government that does not include Netanyahu.
  • Netanyahu released a video several minutes before Gantz’s press conference. He stressed a desire for unity and urged Gantz not to vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset.

What’s next: Gantz did leave a small opening by saying the early elections can still be prevented if Netanyahu brings the 2021 budget up for a vote in the Cabinet in the next three weeks and guarantees it will pass the Knesset soon thereafter.

  • Netanyahu is unlikely to take those steps, as he has no desire to follow through on the rotation deal.
  • Polls also show Netanyahu's right-wing bloc far ahead in a potential election match-up.

The bottom line: It will take a miracle to prevent an early election.

Go deeper: Gantz's "submarine affair" probe signals end of pact

Go deeper

Jan 21, 2021 - World

Netanyahu and Israel reluctantly adjust to a post-Trump Washington

Netanyahu (R) and Biden in 2010. Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO via Getty

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his close aides are very nervous about the transition to a new U.S. administration after a four-year honeymoon with Donald Trump. One Israeli official told me it felt like going through detox.

What he's saying: Netanyahu congratulated Biden minutes after he was sworn in, saying in a statement that he looked forward to working together to "continue expanding peace between Israel and the Arab world and to confront common challenges, chief among them the threat posed by Iran."

Jan 21, 2021 - World

World leaders react to "new dawn in America" under Biden administration

President Biden reacts delivers his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

World leaders have pledged to work with President Biden on issues including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, with many praising his move to begin the formal process for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.

The big picture: Several leaders noted the swift shift from former President Trump's "America First" policy to Biden's action to re-engage with the world and rebuild alliances.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.