Israel set for January election after Knesset votes to dissolve itself

Tuesday 16 October 2012 10.28
Benjamin Netanyah's Likud party are expected to retain power
Benjamin Netanyah's Likud party are expected to retain power

A general election will be held in Israel on 22 January after the parliament voted unaminously to dissolve itself and go to the polls.

Opinion polls have indicated an easy election victory for the right-wing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who is likely to head a coalition that includes nationalist and religious parties.

Members of the Knesset voted by 100 to 0 to dissolve parliament after an eight-hour debate.

Israeli elections had been expected in October 2013, but it is common for governments to break up before their terms expire over disagreements about budgets, policy on religion or the nation's conflicts with Arab and other neighbours.

Starting his re-election campaign, Mr Netanyahu focused in his speech on tough measures he had taken to improve security for Israelis, such as building a fence along the border with Egypt's Sinai, and deploying a missile shield against rockets fired from Gaza.

Alluding to past threats to attack Iran to stop it from building a nuclear bomb, something Iran denies, Mr Netanyahu said Israel now had new unspecified "capabilities to act against Iran and its satellites (allied militants in Gaza and Lebanon), capabilities we didn't have in the past".

He did not elaborate but said he had "put the danger of Iran's nuclear programme at the centre of the global agenda".

"Whoever makes light of the threat of Iran's nuclear programme doesn't deserve to govern Israel for even a single day," he said, taking aim at rivals who accuse him of using the Iran issue as a scare tactic to remain popular.

Mr Netanyahu also said he had managed to avoid going to war during his two terms in office - three years in the late 1990s and his current term since March 2009.

"We didn't wage any unnecessary wars, or any wars at all," he said, saying fewer Israelis had been killed in conflicts with the nation's Arab neighbours.

The comment was widely seen as a swipe at Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister who is seen as Mr Netanyahu's potentially toughest rival if he decides to make a comeback after a recent acquittal on corruption charges.

Mr Olmert and his centrist Kadima deputies presided over two wars during the two years they were in office, including a month-long campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and a three-week offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza in 2008-2009.

Shaul Mofaz, the current head of the centrist Kadima party, accused Mr Netanyahu of "blatantly interfering in the US election", alluding to Mr Netanyahu's open disputes with President Barack Obama on Iran and the Palestinians ahead of the US election on 6 November.

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