Israel set for early vote as it ponders Iran challenge (REUTERS) By Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams JERSALEM, ISRAEL 05/07/12 11:21am EDT)
Reuters News Service
Reuters News Service Articles-Index-Top
(Reuters) - Israel´s parliament convened on Monday to dissolve itself
and set a September 4 election that opinion polls predict will renew
Benjamin Netanyahu´s leadership mandate as Israel confronts Iran´s
The looming ballot has deepened doubts about the right-wing prime
minister´s threats to attack Iran and raised the question of whether
his window of opportunity is now too narrow.
"My intention is to form as wide a coalition as possible in order to
bring about stability and lead Israel in the face of the great
challenges still ahead of us," Netanyahu told his cabinet earlier in
The next national election was not due until October 2013, but new
legislation that might force ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the
military and an upcoming budget debate have threatened to unravel a
governing coalition of religious and nationalist parties.
Israeli leaders have insisted the election campaign would have no
impact on their decision-making with regard to Iran, which includes
the possibility of launching an Israeli strike against its nuclear
A Netanyahu victory two months before the U.S. election could give
him leverage over Barack Obama on the Iranian and Palestinian issues
while the president is still engaged in his own campaign and wary of
alienating pro-Israel U.S. voters.
"During this interim the new Israeli government will have absolute
authority, while the U.S. administration will be impotent," said Ari
Shavit, a columnist for the liberal Haaretz daily.
"By bringing the election forward Netanyahu is defining the ideal
time to attack Iran: September or October," he said in an analysis
that was echoed by Israel´s Channel Two TV.
Netanyahu and Obama have had a thorny relationship and the Israeli
leader has come under pressure from Washington not to take unilateral
military action against Iranian facilities suspected of being part of
a project to produce atomic weapons.
Iran says its nuclear program is purely civilian. Israel is believed
to be the Middle East´s only nuclear-armed power.
Although Israeli leaders have hazarded war on the eve of ballots,
taking on Iran would entail unprecedented military risks and would
defy the United States still engaged in diplomatic efforts to resolve
the nuclear dispute.
Netanyahu may also be unwilling to risk his strong lead in the
opinion polls by launching a risk-filled war and driving voters into
"There´s no legal block to Israel attacking Iran now, but if it did
so, the government would have to explain to the people why," said
Yehuda Ben Meir, of Tel Aviv University´s Institute for National
Security Studies. "I don´t see that happening."
On the subject of Iran, Netanyahu told a Likud convention on Sunday
that he would "not ease the pressure until the threat is truly
A parliament dissolution vote is expected later in the day. Netanyahu
and his government will remain in office until after the election and
a new administration is sworn in.
Political commentators have said Netanyahu is likely to end up with a
similar coalition after the vote and had decided to pre-empt the
ballot to capitalize on his strong poll showing. A system of
proportional representation means there are 13 party groups in the
present, 120-seat, single-chamber parliament.
While opinion polls show strong support for Netanyahu´s leadership,
they also indicate that most Israelis either oppose an Israeli strike
on Iran or would favor an attack only if it were carried out with
Netanyahu has been urged by Washington and other world powers to
allow beefed-up international sanctions on Iran to bite. He has
voiced pessimism about the outcome of international nuclear talks
with Iran due to resume in Baghdad on May 23.
The risks entailed in a strike on Iran´s diffuse, well-protected
nuclear facilities are so high and the Iranian response so uncertain
that some analysts believe Netanyahu could only move once he has
secured a new mandate from the people.
Analysts have linked the urgency for an election to Israeli worries
that Iran would within months fortify its uranium enrichment plants
to the point of "immunity" from air strikes.
But fractious Israeli politics, where prime ministers often spend
weeks cobbling together coalitions, might also undermine the idea
that Netanyahu would bounce immediately from the ballot box to the
September seems especially inauspicious for speedy party alliance-
building given the long Jewish holidays at month´s end.
"There would be a caretaker government for at least a month, and then
you´re in October, when the operational window begins closing with
the onset of winter," said Israeli defense analyst Alon Ben-David.
He said an attack would probably have to be postponed to early 2013,
if indeed it happens at all, given the big tactical challenge of
reaching Iran´s distant facilities. (Editing by Angus MacSwan) (©
Thomson Reuters 2012. 05/07/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY