Israel's early election and its effect on striking Iran

Thursday, May 03, 2012 |  Ryan Jones

It is now all but certain that Israel will hold early parliamentary elections later this year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to announced the exact date on Sunday, but most are speculating that the election will take place at the beginning of September.

A much talked about consequence of this decision is how it affects the possibility of striking Iran's nuclear facilities.

Most Israeli officials agree that if there is to be a preemptive strike on Iran, it must occur this year, or the beginning of next year at the very latest. Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently warned that Israel and the West cannot allow themselves to continue being duped by Iran's diplomatic game. Barack previously cautioned that sooner rather than later, Iran would test a nuclear bomb and then be immune to any kind of military intervention.

But with elections suddenly slated to take place so soon, Israel's political leaders are now busy campaigning, meaning there will definitely be no strike on Iran before September. And depending on the results of the vote, those in charge today may not be five months from now.

There are a few scenarios that Israelis believe may be playing out:

  1. Current polls show that Netanyahu and his Likud Party will emerge from the upcoming election stronger than ever. Netanyahu could be looking to use the election results as a fresh mandate and validation of his policies before launching a strike on Iran.

  2. Sporadic reports over the past year have indicated that suspected Israeli covert operations in Iran have already succeeded in crippling the Islamic Republic's ability to produce nuclear weapons in the short term. According to those reports, Netanyahu knows this. In that case, the early election could be an effort by Netanyahu and other leaders to dampen the debate over whether or not to strike Iran, as doing so is no longer necessary.

  3. Netanyahu and the Israeli leadership still believe a strike on Iran may be necessary, but fear the current debate is moving too fast, especially considering current US President Barack Obama would be unlikely to directly support Israeli military action. Netanyahu might be trying to defer the debate until after the US presidential election in November.

  4. While perhaps the least likely scenario, there is some speculation that Netanyahu agrees with the notion that attacking Iran is simply too risky, even if that means allowing Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons. In that case, Netanyahu could be looking to weaken the power of his more hawkish current coalition partners via early elections, "forcing" him to create a new coalition with more dovish factions.

Whatever the reason, most Israelis feel that early elections are unnecessary (62 percent according to a new poll), and that there is something more than simple politics behind the decision to go that route. The behavior of Knesset members seems to back up that suspicion.

"If you held a secret ballot, 118 [out of 120] MKs would vote against early elections," Shas lawmaker Yitzhak Vaknin told reporters. However, for some reason none of those MKs are speaking out against Netanyahu's decision. Even those who stand to lose many seats (such as Kadima) and those who may end up with no Knesset seat at all (like Barak) are keeping totally mum.

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