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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 27, 2021 - World

Israel's COVID crisis deepens even as the vaccination rate climbs

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters clash with security forces over lockdown enforcement Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped to declare victory over the pandemic before the elections on March 23, but new fast-spreading variants of COVID-19 have dashed those hopes.

Why it matters: Netanyahu's main political vulnerability is his handling of the pandemic. He has acknowledged that his poll numbers will be directly connected to the rates of vaccinations, new infections and deaths, as well as his ability to reopen the economy.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting parts of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."