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What election means to Israel

By He Wenping (China Daily)

13:12, January 21, 2013

If opinion polls are to believed and going by the right-leaning Israeli society, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should register a comfortable win in the election to the 19th Knesset on Jan 22. And since there is little doubt over the outcome of the election, the question to answer is what kind of foreign policy Israel will adopt after the election.

Netanyahu has said preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon will be on top of his agenda if he is re-elected. In fact, Netanyahu called for an early election mainly because of the Iranian nuclear issue.

In February 2012, Iran unveiled a new-generation centrifuge for uranium enrichment, drawing criticism from Israel and many Western countries. Israel insists that Iran may have enough material to build a nuclear weapon by the summer of 2013. To stop Iran from reaching the "final stage" of the process, Israel has even threatened to launch a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

By holding the election ahead of schedule, Netanyahu and the Likud Party want to take full advantage of their high approval ratings to first focus on solving domestic issues and then to prepare for an "attack" on Iran.

But factors against a possible Israeli military strike are growing. For example, the likelihood of the United States endorsing Israel's action is diminishing.

Barack Obama will be sworn in as US president for a second term a day before the election to the Israeli parliament, and since he has the fiscal cliff and the gun control problem at home, and the Syrian crisis to deal with, the Iranian nuclear issue may not be on top of his agenda. Also, it's no secret that Netanyahu and Obama do not enjoy a harmonious relationship. When Netanyahu visited the US to draw a "clear line" on Iran's nuclear program, Obama said that he was trying to ignore the "noise" being created by Israel, and that sanctions against Iran were working and there was still "time and space" for a diplomatic and political resolution to the issue.

Another development to Israel's chagrin is the nomination of the next US secretary of defense. Despite the strong opposition of some Republican senators, Obama has chosen former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, known for his anti-war and disarmament stance, as the next secretary of defense. Since Hagel opposed the US-led war in Iraq, refused to impose sanctions on Iran, and is considered unfriendly toward Israel, his nomination has irked some Republican legislators and conservative pro-Israel groups.

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