This article is part of a series on Israel's upcoming early election and the parties taking part in it. To learn more about Israel's political scene, visit our topic page on Election 2013
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has again managed to pull a pre-election surprise by merging his Likud Party with Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu Party ahead of the January poll.
Israel Beiteinu is currently the third largest faction in Israel's Knesset, and has been the linchpin in Netanyahu's coalition since the last election in 2009, making Lieberman something of a "king-maker."
In a press conference held last Thursday, both Netanyahu and Lieberman said the merger would "strengthen the government, strengthen the prime minister, and strengthen the country" at a time when Israel is dealing with serious threats and domestic issues.
Netanyahu and Lieberman see largely eye-to-eye on the Iran nuclear threat, the faltering peace process with the Palestinians, and the implementation of more free market capitalist reforms to Israel's traditionally socialist economic system.
The alliance is also one of convenience for both leaders. Newly formed and revitalized left-wing parties are looking to pose a serious challenge to Netanyahu in the upcoming early election, and the combination of Israel Beiteinu's seats with those of the Likud will almost guarantee that he remains head of the Knesset's largest faction.
Lieberman, too, stands to gain much, with analysts agreed that Israel Beiteinu has likely seen its heyday, and would lose a number of mandates to centrist and left-wing parties that are currently on the upswing.
That being said, Lieberman remains popular among right-wing voters, and with a large number of Israel's immigrants from Russia. As part of the merger agreement, he will remain Israel's foreign minister in any future Netanyahu-led government.
Understandably, Israel's left-wing parties were furious over the news, with some going so far as to call the Netanyahu-Lieberman alliance a "fascist union."
Also uneasy over the merger were ultra-Orthodox parties like Shas. Lieberman has been at the forefront of several efforts to force Israel's ultra-Orthodox community to be a more productive segment of society, in particular by being drafted into the army. With Likud and Israel Beiteinu split, the religious factions were able to muster enough influence to resist such efforts.