Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement on Tuesday that there would be elections in three months, nearly a year before the final date on which he would have to go to the country, was motivated by the government’s inability to pass a “responsible” budget for 2013. But that was only one factor.
If Mr Netanyahu really wanted another nine months in power, he would have found a way of pushing the budget through the Knesset. Four issues make elections in January rather than in October 2013 more desirable for him.
In America, President Barack Obama still looks as though he may narrowly win the election. The personal relationship between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Obama is frosty at best and a Democrat victory would cast a pall over Mr Netanyahu’s fabled connections in Washington. If Mitt Romney wins, it would allow the Israeli premier to bask in reflected glory, having bet on the right horse. If Mr Obama is re-elected, better for Mr Netanyahu to go to the polls before the administration is back in its stride and pressuring Israel.
Then there is the much-discussed Iran factor. In his UN speech last month, Mr Netanyahu indicated that Israel was not planning to attack Iran imminently. Accordingly, Mr Netanyahu can present himself as the man who put Iran on the world’s agenda and the leader to see the mission through. If he waits a year, diplomacy, military action, or internal unrest, may change the Iranian situation and Mr Netanyahu could lose his most potent rallying cause.
A looming recession and the need for an austerity budget in 2013 has filled Mr Netanyahu with dread of a second wave of social protests, just in time for elections. By bringing the polls forward, he is out-flanking any new protest movement.
Finally, there is no opposition leader to challenge the prime minister. Shaul Mofaz now heads a demoralised and irretrievably split Kadima. Shelly Yachimovich still has far to go before she can make Labour a potential party of government. And Defence Minister Ehud Barak will be lucky if his Atzmaut party crosses the electoral threshold.
Mr Netanyahu’s coalition partners are also in crisis. Yisrael Beiteinu’s leader Avigdor Lieberman faces a serious criminal indictment and Shas is once again torn between its current leader Eli Yishai and the legendary Arie Deri, once again threatening a comeback. Mr Netanyahu believes that Likud can take votes from both partners, making the post-election coalition talks much easier. Elections cannot come quickly enough for him.