Israel Leader Calls for Early Elections (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By JOSHUA MITNICK TEL AVIV, ISRAEL 05/03/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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TEL AVIV—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu´s Likud Party introduced a
bill to dissolve parliament and advance the elections to this year
from next, taking advantage of the Israeli leader´s commanding lead
in public-opinion polls and a fractured opposition.
The early vote, which Israeli media said would be held on Sept. 4, is
one of several developments that have scrambled calculations about
the timing of any possible pre-emptive Israeli strike against Iran´s
As the West looks for a diplomatic resolution to the standoff with
Iran through multilateral talks and economic sanctions, the expected
Israeli elections are seen by some observers as representing another
possible grace period for a potential attack.
"In an election all bets are off" after an attack, said Mitchell
Barak, a pollster and ex-aide to Mr. Netanyahu. "You can´t be
fighting a war and running an election at the same time."
Mr. Netanyahu´s Likud Party would get 30 of the 120 seats in Israel´s
parliament and a 12-seat advantage over the next largest party if the
elections were held in early September, a poll published in the daily
Yediot Ahronot newspaper said this week. Likud now has 27 seats.
Likud´s election bill is likely to pass.
Mr. Netanyahu is expected to campaign on a hawkish policy toward Iran
to enhance his tough security image. But one senior Israeli official
said Israel was unlikely to strike Iran at least until talks with the
five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and
Germany are exhausted. Talks are set to continue May 23 in Baghdad.
However, in response to the suggestion in a Facebook chat that a
caretaker government would lack the legitimacy to stage a strike
with "far-reaching implications," Defense Minister Ehud Barak
insisted its policy toward Iran wouldn´t waver.
"The executive branch continues as usual," he wrote. "Therefore
elections will not influence the considerations of the professional
level as far as the Iranian conundrum is concerned.´´
Western governments continue to oppose Iran´s nuclear program, which
Iran says is aimed at producing energy, but they suspect has military
aims. They are hopeful that tighter sanctions set to begin on July 1
will soften Tehran´s stance.
Mr. Netanyahu initially dismissed the talks as allowing Iran to stall
for more time, but this week he dispatched Israel´s national-security
adviser to Europe to discuss the progress of nonproliferation talks.
The senior Israeli official said it was still too early to tell
whether or not the Iranians are serious about reaching a negotiated
solution. "We think that in these negotiations with Iran, the
Iranians will not show their cards until the very last moment," the
official said. "It will take some time to know what they really want,
and whether they want to reach a deal."
Many people believe any attack could jeopardize Mr. Netanyahu´s
electoral advantage. Most Israelis oppose a lone pre-emptive attack
on Iran because they view it as potentially resulting in a regional
war and further Israeli isolation, polls show.
Despite his reputation as a security hawk, Mr. Netanyahu has never
begun a broad military operation during his six years in office over
two terms, and many believe that wouldn´t change during an election
"Clearly if he does early elections, it puts the Iran issue on hold
because Netanyahu´s legendary caution would mean that he would not
want the fate of his election hanging on the success of an pre-
emptive attack," said David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington
Institute of Near East Policy.
One senior European Union diplomat says they have been following
political developments in Israel closely but don´t feel early
elections change their calculus. "We have got a strategy for dealing
with Iran and we intend to carry on with that," he said.
Meanwhile, a rising chorus of security chiefs is openly criticizing
the approach toward Iran by Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak, the defense
minister. In the past week, Yuval Diskin, the ex-director of the
domestic Shin Bet security service, said he had no confidence in the
two men and that a lone attack on Iran would backfire on Israel.
Military Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said in a published
interview last week he believed that Iran´s leadership was rational
and unlikely to make a final decision to build a nuclear weapon.
Mr. Netanyahu, nicknamed "Bibi," "needs to take these remarks with
caution," said Shlomo Madmon, a Likud activist. "If he attacks on his
own with out the international community, he won´t be able to reach
the point where Israel can win decisively....That would be a terrible
mistake, and it would hurt Bibi and the party."
—Laurence Norman in Brussels contributed to this article. (Copyright
© Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 05/03/12)
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