The US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrives in Israel amid protests against the government's judicial reform plans, with thousands calling for a “day of resistance to dictatorship”

Austin, who is on a regional tour, landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday where hundreds of protesters gathered. He was greeted on the tarmac by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the Pentagon secretary's visit came as Israeli protesters stepped up their opposition to the government's controversial judicial reform proposal.

Protesters waving Israeli flags broke into Israel's international airport and used their cars to block the main road leading to the departure area. The chaos disrupted traffic and it was not clear if and how Netanyahu would reach the airport.

Police handed out speeding tickets and demonstrators held up placards reading “Dictator: don’t come back”. Security guards were seen pushing and pushing protesters outside the facility.

Israeli public broadcaster Khan reported that Netanyahu would fly to the airport by helicopter and bypass the protesters. The prime minister's office declined to comment. “Israel is on the verge of becoming an autocratic country. The current government is trying to destroy our democracy and actually destroy the country,” said Tel Aviv protester Sabion Oh.

Police, led by ultranationalist National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gubir, said they had vowed to prevent riots and made arrests as soon as the protests began.

Mounted police were stationed in central Tel Aviv, demonstrators marched, and water cannons were parked nearby. Red signs adorning the city's boulevards read, “resistance to dictatorship is mandatory”.