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Early Israeli elections? What it would mean for US, Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled on Sunday for the first time that he is liable to move up Israel’s elections from next year to this year.

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Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Sunday's cabinet meeting, where he indicated that he may hold early elections.

Ronen Zvulun/AP

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled on Sunday for the first time that he is liable to move up Israel’s elections from next year to this year to take advantage of his lead in opinion polls over the country’s fractured opposition.

Though Mr. Netanyahu’s record of sounding the alarm about a nuclear Iran is likely to figure prominently in his campaign because it plays to his strength as a security hawk, early elections would make it less likely that the prime minister would order a preemptive attack on Iran because it risks igniting regional war that could endanger his popularity, analysts said.

"Netanyahu knows that he enjoys a relatively high and stable popularity, and it’s a good time to [hold elections] when his rivals are seen as unprepared," says Aviv Bushinsky, a former advisor to Netanyahu who believes early elections will happen. "So why should he risk it by attacking, what if it fails? He doesn’t need to do something extreme to win the elections."

A March poll in the liberal Haaretz newspaper showed Netanyahu’s Likud Party with 35 to 37 seats, with rival parties winning less than half of that.

Beyond the public approval rating, a mixture of domestic and foreign motives is behind the prime minister’s potential gamble on early elections, say analysts.

Netanyahu is thought to be concerned that holding elections on their originally scheduled date of November 2013 will leave him vulnerable to pressure from the US on concessions to the Palestinians if President Barack Obama wins a second term in November.

Netanyahu will be largely impervious to that pressure if Israel’s election campaign is held simultaneously as Mr. Obama fights for reelection at home. An Israeli campaign would also diminish the prospects for any new gestures to renewing talks with the Palestinians because it would hurt Netanyahu’s support among Jewish settlers and hardline allies in the parliament.

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