Upcoming elections in Israel – April 2019

The upcoming elections in Israel have been appraised by commentators both left and right for potentially broader regional significance beyond that of domestic politics. The outcome could reshape the Middle East for generations to come.

If Netanyahu is able to further cement his position as the second longest serving leader in Israeli history, coupled with unprecedented support from Washington, and a burgeoning relationship with Saudi Arabia and especially some of the Gulf states; we may see a final death blow to any notion of the two state solution agenda, involving land for peace which has been peddled by the international community since Oslo in 1993. Indeed, this process had already begun when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year and then rather conveniently recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights three weeks before the election (thereby handing his ally an Ace). The next logical continuation of this sequence of events (after a win) would be for Netanyahu to seek a green light from Trump to annex at least those major settlement blocks in close proximity to the green line such as Gush Etzion.

Netanyahu has been posturing the promise of security at the forefront of his manifesto pledge. According to polls, after two Intifadas and near continuous low-level conflict the majority of Jewish Israelis are disillusioned by the prospects for peace. Instead they are resigned to transforming Israel into a fortress and view Netanyahu as the man who can deliver the goods. That is, until Ganz appeared on the scene as a viable contender and formed a centrist-left wing party to challenge Likud’s grip on power. Akin to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Ganz comes with stellar military credentials, being a former Chief of Staff. Previous electoral challengers to Netanyahu have been rebuffed as being soft on security. Obviously it is far more difficult to characterize Ganz in such a light. But that hasn’t prevented Netanyahu from trying. He went as far as to insinuate that his opponent may be being black mailed by Iran after reportedly having his iPhone hacked by their subversive operatives.

In the international arena, if Likud wins Israel will become both more and less isolated. The existing natural ties between Trump and Netanyahu will presumably strengthen. Israel will likely continue to forge relationships with certain elements of the ruling classes of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states; especially in the face of continued Iranian belligerence and attempts to attain regional dominance over the Sunnis. Under Netenyahu’s leadership India has also recently emerged as a strategic partner, with Israeli arms sales being the bedrock of their cordial relations. This will probably continue. Conversely, Israel will likely become further alienated from the EU. This is in part due to the strained relations between the Trump administration and Brussels. But is further exacerbated by the EU’s opposition to Likud’s stance on settlement building. With Netanyahu plausibly emboldened by US support to accelerate such activity post – election victory, this animosity will increase.

Israel has been involved in a proxy war with Iran on three main fronts: Lebanon, Syria and Gaza. The IDF sustained a bloody nose at the hands of Iranian funded and directed Hizbollah in the summer of 2006, despite delivering significant damages to Hizbollah in return. Since then the northern border has largely remained quiet and Israel’s efforts to contain the paramilitary group have mostly centered on supporting opposing Sunni forces in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

In Syria, Israel has launched direct military strikes against Iranian assets. This low-level tussle may blow up into full scale conflict should Netanyahu win a further term. This is largely due to the fact that Assad, animated by Russia and Iran, has de-facto won the Civil War and Iran’s military presence in the country has become entrenched. Netanyahu has indicated that he is unwilling to accept such a state of affairs. There will also most likely be a major operation in Gaza; especially if there are further rocket attacks, like the ones we have witnessed recently.

The weak policy of Obama not keeping his “red line” warning to Syria, and the vacuum left by the Obama administration in Iraq that was filled by Isis whom Obama ridiculed as a mere “JV team”, created a complicated mess inherited by Trump. Israel and the USA on one hand, as well as Syria and Iran backed by Putin on the other, were both pitted against an Isis that is now all but destroyed in Syria as Trump pledged. The three-way conflict thrust on Netanyahu and bequeathed to Trump however, further complicated by the ambiguous position of Turkey and Erdogan, engendered an insurmountable quagmire that left Assad in power despite the success in eradicating Isis. The Sunni Isis Caliphate was effectively replaced by a Shia Iranian nexus extending via Syria into Lebanon with adjuncts in Gaza.

On the financial front, in the absence of unforeseen circumstances the economy overall will continue to grow due to favorable free market policies championed by Netanyahu that attract foreign investment in terms of both capital and research and development -especially in the high-tech industry. Adversely, Chareidi participation in the workforce will remain stunted due to Likud being obliged to concede subsidies to this sector in order to retain the support of the religious parties in its coalition; thus demotivating this community from obtaining gainful employment.

Netanyahu has promised to reserve several seats in his coalition and cabinet posts for ultra nationalist parties who many would argue are opposed to the fundamental tenets of western democratic liberalism. Giving them such a platform may impact government policy vis a vis Israel’s Arab minority; as has arguably already been the case with the right wing coalition passing Israel’s Jewish nation state law last year. This piece of legislation defined Israel as a State for the Jewish people rather than for all its citizens. We may see additional comparable statutes promulgated by the Knesset following a Likud win.

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