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Netanyahu Asked to Form New Israeli Government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, receives a folder from Israeli President Simon Peres in a brief ceremony in the president's Jerusalem residence Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013.
Two weeks after national elections, Israel's incumbent is set for a third term in office.

Israeli President Shimon Peres formally appointed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to begin coalition talks and form the next government.

At a ceremony in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said the Middle East is in turmoil, and that security must be his first concern.

He said his government’s top priority will be to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but Israel sees it as an existential threat and has threatened to attack Tehran’s atomic facilities as a last resort.

Netanyahu also expressed concern over the civil war in neighboring Syria. He vowed to deal with “the proliferation of deadly weapons in surrounding nations” - a clear reference to Syrian conventional and chemical arsenals that Israel has warned must not fall into the hands of Islamist terror groups.

Foreign news reports say Israeli warplanes last Wednesday attacked a convoy in Syria that was said to be transferring Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel has not confirmed the reports.

Despite the tough talk, the prime minister said that Israel seeks peace with its Arab neighbors.

He called on the Palestinian Authority to return to peace talks that have been deadlocked for four years over Jewish settlement expansion.

That appeal reflects the results of national elections two weeks ago: Netanyahu’s hawkish right-wing bloc was weakened while dovish centrist parties made gains. The next coalition is likely to include moderates who hope to revive the peace process.

The prime minister has six weeks to establish a new government.