Israel election may define 2013…writes Julie Bishop

January 3, 2013 by Julie Bishop
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The Israeli parliamentary election on 22 January is ostensibly a political contest between the left and the right, as it is in many countries throughout the world.

Julie Bishop

Julie Bishop

However, the election result in Israel also has serious implications for the Middle East and beyond.

Pundits are predicting that Benjamin Netanyahu will remain as Prime Minister.

A poll late last year showed a surge in support for several of the parties regarded as far right and which are likely to join in coalition with the Likud party led by Mr Netanyahu.

During his campaign speech last month Prime Minister Netanyahu put the issue of Iran as a top priority stating, “First and foremost we must stop Iran’s nuclear programme, and the time for that is slipping away. That is my first mission as prime minister.”

Mr Netanyahu may be alluding to strengthening the sanctions that have had a major impact on Iranian oil revenues and caused significant economic hardship within Iran, although the sanctions regime has done little to slow its nuclear program.

It is equally likely his statement is referring to potential Israeli military strikes against key facilities within Iran.

Israel has taken such action in the past including the destruction in 1981 of a nuclear reactor under construction by Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and strikes against a suspected nuclear facility in Syria in 2007.

More recently a suspected arms factory in Sudan was destroyed during a night bombing raid, with Sudanese authorities pointing the finger at Israel.

For many years the Israeli government has been concerned about Iran’s nuclear program exacerbated by the repeated threats from Iran’s leaders to destroy Israel.

It was clear late last year that Israel believed Iran was close to crossing or indeed had crossed what it terms the “red lines” that should trigger a military response.

A serious complicating factor is that Israel faces significant logistical hurdles to mounting such strikes from its territory.

There are also conflicting reports as to whether the USA has authorised the sale of its “bunker busting” bombs to Israel, which are likely to be critical to the success of any mission.

It is also clear that if Israel makes the decision to strike Iran, it would prefer to do so with military support from the USA.

This issue was a cause of significant tension last year between United States President Barack Obama and Mr Netanyahu.

It is not evident that there has been any change in the US position since the presidential election on 6 November last year.

Mr Netanyahu has vowed that Israel will act alone if necessary.

Iran has warned that it will retaliate with a range of direct responses and through its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza.

Of great concern for the world economy is Iran’s threat to block the Strait of Hormuz, the passage for a large proportion of global oil supplies.

There are concerning reports that Iran has also made agreements with the Syrian regime of President Assad to provide him with significant support, and which has been forthcoming on the understanding that Syria will launch missiles armed with chemical and biological warheads against Israel if there is an attack on Iran.

The issue of Iran is not the only flashpoint for the next government of Israel, regardless of the outcome.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to hand over responsibility for the Authority to Israel and said recently, “If there is no progress even after the election I will take the phone and call Netanyahu. Sit in the chair here instead of me, take the keys, and you will be responsible for the Palestinian Authority.”

If Mr Abbas were to actually take such action it would place Israel in the difficult position of having to directly govern the almost two million Palestinian people living on the West Bank at a time when the peace process is in disrepair.

There have been no direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis for several years.

Mr Abbas is well aware that it would result in an uprising by militant elements within the Palestinians.

Meanwhile a Hamas spokesperson has criticised Abbas for not offering to hand over the leadership to Hamas which currently has control of Gaza.

It is hard to imagine any scenario where Israel would consent to Hamas controlling the West Bank.

With the Muslim Brotherhood slowly but surely establishing its influence over Egypt, the next Prime Minister of Israel will be faced with a number of regional challenges that threaten national and regional security.

There are few easy choices awaiting the next Prime Minister of Israel and the whole world will be watching.

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