Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday faced the likely end of his 12-year rule as a parliament vote loomed in which a fragile "change" coalition hoped to oust him and form a new government.
Embattled Netanyahu, in characteristically combative style, vowed that "if it's our destiny to be in the opposition, we'll do so with our heads high until we take down this bad government and return to lead the country our way".
Beloved as "King Bibi" by his right-wing supporters and condemned as the "crime minister" by his critics, the hawkish Netanyahu has long been the dominant, and increasingly divisive, figure in Israeli politics.
If the fragile eight-party alliance wins a razor-thin majority in the 120-seat Knesset, Netanyahu, 71, will be replaced as premier by his one-time ally Naftali Bennett, a right-wing Jewish nationalist and former tech millionaire.
In a speech to the Knesset, interrupted by raucous boos, Bennett promised the new government, a motley coalition of ideologically divergent parties, would "represents all of Israel".
He also vowed it would keep Israel safe from what it considers its arch foe, Iran, promising that "Israel won't let Iran have nuclear weapons" -- a goal the Islamic republic denies pursuing.
Netanyahu, true to his reputation as Israel's "Mr Security", charged in his Knesset speech that "Iran is celebrating" the prospect of what he has repeatedly labelled a "dangerous" left-wing government.
The diverse anti-Netanyahu bloc was cobbled together by the secular centrist Yair Lapid, a former TV presenter, and includes right-wing and left-wing groups as well as Arab-Israeli lawmakers.
The upcoming crunch vote will either end Netanyahu's record time in office or, in case of a last-minute upset, return Israel to a stalemate likely to trigger a fifth general election since 2019.
"A morning of change," promised a Sunday tweet by Lapid, who would serve as foreign minister under the coalition deal before taking over the premiership in 2023, provided the wobbly alliance survives that long.
- Fragile coalition -
Netanyahu, who is battling corruption charges in an ongoing trial he dismisses as a conspiracy, has been the dominant Israeli politician of his generation, having also served a previous three-year term in the 1990s.
Thousands of protesters rallied outside his official residence late Saturday, waving "Bye Bye Bibi" signs and celebrating what they hope will be his departure from office.
"I am almost crying," said one protester, Ofir Robinski, outside the prime minister's residence. "We fought peacefully for this, and the day has come."
Netanyahu tweeted a photo of himself Sunday with a message to supporters that said: "Love you, thanks!"
The anti-Netanyahu bloc spans the political spectrum, including three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with an Arab Islamic conservative party.
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