The Israeli Prime Minister’s announcement of an early general election to take place in January or February 2013, about eight months before the current Knesset’s term ends, has yet again shown Binyamin Netanyahu’s ability to work to several agendas at once. The current coalition between the right-wing Likud party and its centre-right partner Kadima, with support from the Zionist extreme-right Yisrael Beiteinu, was formed amidst political chaos in May 2012, when the Prime Minister wrong-footed his opponents by getting the Knesset to dissolve itself and then reversed his stated plans to hold elections in September. Instead, he invited Kadima, which was facing electoral meltdown, into the ruling coalition. One left party called the manoeuvre a “stinking” deal, but it gave Mr. Netanyahu 94 out of 120 Knesset seats and ensured him total legislative approval. For example, in the rush to pass vote-winning laws before September, the Knesset gave second and third readings to proposals granting tax exemptions to organisations which “encourage settlement activity”. Furthermore, keeping Kadima on board meant the government could reduce damage from the possible corruption indictment of Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. In addition, with the economy in trouble and no budget approved for 2012, proroguing the Knesset enables the government to work to the 2011 budget, thereby implementing further austerity measures sub rosa.
The Prime Minister’s capacity to startle domestic rivals is nevertheless minor when compared to his influence over the world’s most powerful geostrategic entities. Mr. Netanyahu will very probably focus on the threat he thinks Iran poses, and his language is likely to be even more inflammatory than it has been so far. Yet for all his rhetoric, Mr. Netanyahu’s 27 September U.N. speech in which he dramatically drew a red line on a supposed Iranian nuclear bomb suggests Israel will not rush to precipitate a war over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons programme until at least early next year. Of course, the Israeli leader’s claims about Iran are meant to manipulate the United States and the European Union into imposing progressively tougher sanctions on Iran. On all the evidence, that ruse works and even though western leaders almost certainly know it is a ruse, they dare not stand up to any Israeli government. The real Israeli agenda, of course, is something else: it is to shout so loudly about Iran that the entirely legitimate demand of the Palestinians for the return of the Occupied Territories is drowned out and the country they have a right to — as much as the Israelis have to their own — is slowly effaced off the map.