Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu presided for the first time over his third government Monday evening, holding a cabinet meeting in his office shortly after the ministers were sworn in at the Knesset.

At its first session, the cabinet approved a seven-man security cabinet – much smaller than the outgoing 15- member body – that is empowered to deal with the country’s critical national security issues.

In addition to the five ministers who must by law be part of that key forum – Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni – two other ministers were brought in: Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Communications and Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan.

The cabinet also selected its Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) oversight committee, which in addition to the five permanent members of the security cabinet will now include International Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Two other pressing matters of business were the approval of an extension to pass a budget and a bill to extend the tenure of the current chief rabbis by another four months, during which time new elections for their positions will be held.

Late Monday night, in agreement with the opposition, the ministers unanimously passed a timetable for a new 2013 budget, according to a Finance Ministry spokesperson.

Lapid had intended to introduce a bill requesting to expand the 45- day deadline up to a 120 days, but faced opposition from Labor. Instead, the agreement, to be read in the full Knesset on Tuesday, gives the government 85 days to submit the budget and 50 days to pass it through the required three readings before lawmakers, meaning the final budget must be in play by August.

Netanyahu opened the cabinet meeting by saying he was moved at presiding over the first meeting of his third cabinet.

“This is not something that is a given; nothing here is a given, and the heavy responsibility is now on all of us,” he said. “The responsibility and the privilege.”

Of the three governments he has headed, Netanyahu said, he did not remember a more challenging period in terms of the potential dangers, on the one hand, or a period of more opportunities, on the other.

“I think we can answer all the challenges,” he said.

“We are starting a new government today and also clearing the table, placing all the divisions to the side.”

Netanyahu praised his new ministers as being fresh, experienced and talented, and said the only way to succeed would be through cooperation and unity.

Lapid said at the beginning of the meeting that he was keyed up.

“On his first day in the Knesset my father [Tommy Lapid] bought himself a briefcase,” he said. “I have come with that briefcase and am very excited.”

Bennett said the current government presented many opportunities and that he was enthusiastic. Livni said that a way would be found to move the diplomatic process forward.

“I hope we will do good,” she said.

The cabinet also approved the appointment of the following deputy ministers: Ophir Akunis (Likud Beytenu) as deputy minister for liaison with the Knesset; Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi) as deputy religious services minister; Danny Danon (Likud Beytenu) as deputy defense minister; Ze’ev Elkin (Likud Beytenu) as deputy foreign minister; Tzipi Hotovely (Likud Beytenu) as deputy transportation minister; Faina Kirschenbaum (Likud Beytenu) as deputy interior minister; Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) as deputy welfare and social services minister; and Avraham Wortzman (Bayit Yehudi) as deputy education minister.

Following the meeting, the ministers went to the President’s Residence for the traditional group picture.

Niv Elis contributed to this report.

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