In less than two weeks, Israel will hold its second national election in five months. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been unable to cobble together a successful coalition last time. Now, he is struggling desperately to pull his Likud Party into first place on September 17, so that he will have another chance to form a workable Government.
Assuming the polls are accurate, Bibi is running neck and neck with the more moderate Blue and White (Kahol v’Lavan) Party headed by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. It also includes a group of high-ranking former military officers on their party list. At the moment, based on combined polls, the Prime Minister would appear to have a better chance to build a coalition than Gantz; but this is hardly a certainty.
With serious security concerns on all of Israel’s borders including Hamas in Gaza; Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; and Iran or their surrogates in Syria, Netanyahu is presenting himself as the strongest, most experienced person to lead the country through this tense time. This is despite the fact that the Blue and White Party has so many high profile former elite defense leaders affiliated with it.
Likud is also suggesting that if the Blue and White Party were to lead–and since they have vowed not to bring into a coalition any of the religious parties–they probably would need to include the Joint List of Arab parties. This move would be unprecedented, although there have been Arabs within major parties in a coalition. The suggestion here is that the right wing leaning Israeli electorate will not be willing to accept this move; especially at a time where there are so many security issues at hand. Similarly, it is suggested that Blue and White would not gain enough support from the left for such a move to balance the probable defections from some other parties including the right-wing party led by Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beitanu (the Israel Home) Party).
As evidence of how concerned Netanyahu must be, he paid a visit yesterday to the highly controversial West Bank city of Hebron in order to make another public statement to appease those right-wing Israelis who are trending to support the New Right (Yamina) Party led by Ayelet Shaked. A day earlier, Bibi cancelled his scheduled visit to India in order to remain home to monitor more closely security confrontations continuing to develop in the North; once again trying to re-affirm his national security credentials. Certainly, Israel’s repeated attacks against Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi targets in Syria and its borders also were sending a signal of Netanyahu’s willingness to take all necessary measures to force Iran and its surrogates to step back.
With respect to Israel’s relationship with the U.S. there were numerous signals or rumors which have emerged to further bolster Netanyahu’s importance and Israel’s status in the eyes of the U.S. There was a rumor that there will be a meeting between Netanyahu and Trump with Vladimir Putin concerning the future of Syria and Iran, which was also seen as evidence of Bibi’s continuing accepted engagement among the major global powers. There was also a leaked story that Trump was considering intensifying the strategic relationship between the U.S. and Israel, thus enabling Bibi to demonstrate his continuing closeness with Trump and with Washington. Finally, President Trump has once again announced that he would be announcing his long awaited Middle East peace proposal following the Israeli election.
The most unclear and foreboding signal that has emerged during the run-up to the election is the status of the U.S.-Iranian relationship. It is not clear whether Trump will meet with Iranian President Rouhani despite Israel’s concern about such a move. There remains much mystery, as well, about Rouhani’s surprise appearance at the G-7 meeting in Biarritz and whether it unnerved Trump. In light of the interest of the other signators to the JCPOA with Iran, Trump has reportedly entertained meeting with Rouhani and at the same time giving Israel a green light to take more aggressive steps against Iran; thus achieving both a more conciliatory position vis-à-vis Iran and—conceivably– having Israel prepared to keep Iran honest.
The final days before the election will be intense and political polls in Israel are frequently unpredictable of the disposition of the Israeli electorate. Global and security issues at the last minute undoubtedly will impact the results. Most observers suggest that the results and the subsequent coalition bargaining will be even more intense this time than they were in April.