On September 17, Israel is holding snap legislative elections to elect the 120 members of the 22nd Knesset.
After the previous similar elections in April, incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition and therefore a government. On 30 May, the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) voted to dissolve itself triggering new elections. This became the first time that the Knesset voted to dissolve itself before a government had been formed. This development once again demonstrated that despite the public strong rhetoric of the Isaeli leadership, the Israeli society is in fact deeply divided.
Israel’s longest-serving prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party are the odds-on favourites. Former military chief Benjamin “Benny” Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party is the main competitor.
The election comes just two weeks before Netanyahu is set to face a pre-trial hearing in connection with three separate corruption cases: Bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The prime minister denies wrongdoing. However, the Israeli foreign policy under the rule of Netanyahu demonstrates that this is utrue.
Over the past months, the Netanyahu administration has done every possible effort to escalate the situation in the region and draw attention of the Israeli citizens from the internal situation. The main topics were:
- combating Iran in Syria;
- combating Iran in Iraq;
- combating Iran in the Persian Gulf;
- combating Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon;
- combating Iran and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu’s lack of creativity was at least partly compensated by expansionist promises (to annex the Jordan Valley) and backing from the Trump adminsistration that has supported Israeli in every possible field. The US even recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.
There are little doubts that Netanyahu will achieve a technical victory. However, the main question is the number of seats that his party will get. Polls show that Likud could fail to get the 61-seat threshold needed to form a government.
But even if the current Israeli Prime Minister manages to form a government, this would be only a delay to a long-drawn-out process that will eventually see him facing trial over corruption and other charges. Therefore, Netanyahu would need some reasons to avoid trial and keep power in own hands. In this event, some ‘short victorious war’ may be seen by him as a useful option. Just recently, Netanyahu claimed that a ground operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable. The only problem is that as in the case of the Saudis this war may appear to be not so ‘victorious’.
Other directions of the possible escalation are the Syrian-Iraqi battle ground and the Lebanese-Israeli contact line. These are as are also not so safe for the mighty Israeli military. Backed by the US military, Israel has a relative freedom of actions to strike supposed Iranian and Hezbollah targets. However, a wider military action that may be needed to Netanyahu’s political post will face a much more powerful response that Tel Aviv would like to see. An example of this has already been seen during a recent local escalation between Hezbollah and the Israeli military:
Taking into account the deteriorating security situation in the Middle East, it’s hard to expect that if Israel keeps its current policy direction, it would anyhow contribute to the strengthening of its own security. At the same time, the agressive policy of Israel will also continue undermining stability in the region itself.
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