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Elections Bring Flexibility

Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly set to announce that an election will be scheduled for September, a year ahead of when it would be required. A prominent Israeli television commentator analyzes his motives:

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling early elections so that he and his government will be free to deal with Iran’s nuclear program this September-October, one of Israel’s best-informed political commentators said on Friday night. …

Netanyahu has shocked the nation in the past few days by indicating that he will be calling elections a year ahead of their scheduled date in October 2013, leaving analysts baffled as to his reasoning. …

[Well-connected commentator Amnon] Abramovich said that the dramatic decision to bring the elections forward relates to Iran. After the September elections, which all polls show Netanyahu winning easily, he will head a transition government for several weeks while a new coalition is formed. During that period, Netanyahu “will not be beholden to the voters,” and will be free to take decisions on Iran that many Israelis might not support, Abramovich said.

That makes sense. A newly-reelected Netanyahu who has spent months if not years warning that Iran poses an existential threat to Israel will have a mandate to do what it takes to remove that threat. But there is more:

And finally, said Abramovich, the September-October period would see Obama, who has publicly urged more patience in allowing diplomacy and sanctions to have their impact on Iran, in the final stages of the presidential election campaign, with a consequent reduced capacity to try to pressure Israel into holding off military intervention.

Obama, “on the eve of elections, won’t dare criticize Israel,” said Abramovich. From Netanyahu’s point of view, “the conditions would be fantastic.”

That makes a lot of sense too. Obama will be locked in a tight election race and will not be able to antagonize pro-Israel voters; on the contrary, he will want to curry favor with the large majority of Americans who support Israel. So conditions will be favorable on both fronts if Netanyahu wants to make a decisive move.

Obama notoriously has assured Russia that he will have more “flexibility” to negotiate with them after the election (assuming, of course, that he wins). By “flexibility” I take it that he meant he will be able to give away the store on anti-missile defense. Likewise, after a successful election campaign Obama, no longer answerable to the voters, would have more flexibility to act on his true feelings about the Middle East, which are anything but pro-Israel.

So if those are the reasons why Netanyahu has pushed the election up by a year, it looks like a smart move.

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