Decision day approaches in Israel

Israel will hold its elections next Tuesday. The polls, which at times have had former Likud and its candidate Benjamin Netanyahu more or less in the driver’s seat, now show a tightening in the race. They also show that Avigdor Lieberman and his Israel Beiteinu party is coming on strong, and may well pin a fourth place finish on the Labor party. Lieberman is considered a right winger although, as Caroline Glick notes, his decision to join the Kadima government in late 2006 kept it in power.

The tightening of the race doesn’t really surprise me. The war with Hamas may be perceived as having gone just well enough to boost Livni slightly. Moreover, Israelis understand that electing Netanyahu might well put their nation on a collision course with the U.S., now that Obama is president. In a sense, the path of least resistance is to stick with Kadima.

Yet Israelis also understand, I think, that they are on a collision course with Iran. Earlier this week, Iran successfully launched a satellite on a ballistic missile. That particular rocket, which can be used to launch conventional and nonconventional warheads, has an estimated range of 2,000-3,000 kilometers. This means that Iran is now capable of launching missiles against both Israel and southern Europe. And Israelis probably sense that Barack Obama’s diplomacy offers no promise of reducing the Iranian threat.

All of this should work in favor of Likud and Netanyahu, but who knows.

If Likud finishes first and Israel Beiteinu third, you would think that these two right-of-center parties will be able to form a government with Netanyahu as Prime Minister. But, as Shmuel Rosner suggests, Israeli politics are so fragmented now (for example, Shas, a religious party, could finish a strong fifth) that Likud and Israel Beiteinu may find it difficult to form a government even if both make strong showings next week.

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