Israel's prime minister says his Likud Party will join forces with the hard-line party of his foreign minister in upcoming parliamentary elections.

The merger between Likud and the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu will form a broad, hawkish bloc. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the announcement at a news conference Thursday night with Yisrael Beitenu's leader, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The merger immediately makes the new Likud the clear front-runner in the January election. Israeli media speculated that Netanyahu made the deal to head off the threat of an emerging centrist bloc led by the resurgent Labor Party.