Elections in Israel are about many things – big and small. With issues that range from existential nuclear threats to domestic nuclear programs, it goes without saying that, like in any democracy, ‘understanding the issues’ is an extremely important part of the electoral process. This blog post will serve as a short crash-course on one ‘issue’ – namely, Israel’s national security concerns, and how they impact the Israeli election process.
Arguably, the most dramatic and acute security problem that Israel currently faces is Iran and its nuclear aspirations. As Iran creeps towards the ‘red line’ set by Israel’s sitting Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition parties within Israel have yet to authoritatively oppose any national security initiatives set out by the current government. This silence can be attributed to one of two reasons: 1. a lack of national security expertise/experience on the part of Israeli opposition leaders or 2. a unified, national recognition that Israel is incapable of stopping Iran’s determination and motivation to continue to build and rebuild their nuclear program, despite any setbacks it may suffer at hands of Israel’s military; in which case, a new paradigm of economic and political pressure may be in order for all political parties.
With the latter reason as the more likely of the two, it is not surprising that this issue has disappeared from the agenda of the Israeli election campaign as each of Israel’s parties awaits the results of the upcoming US-Iran negotiations. Until then, the ‘Iran’ issue will not affect the upcoming Israeli elections. If Netanyahu, or any other Israeli political leader, felt that they were the only thing standing between Iran and the bomb, they would order the strike and win the election by a landslide. But for now, there are too many other issues at play to make that decision, and the Israeli population knows that.
With this election occurring on the heels of Operation ‘Pillar of Defense’ as well as two of the most the tumultuous years in recent Middle Eastern history, Israel’s political relationships with their neighbours will, once again, play a dominant role in the upcoming election process. The current state of insecurity in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan leaves the Israeli public feeling nervous. And, now, with the renegotiation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty on the table, it will certainly impact election results. Overall, the rising confidence of revolutionary Islamists – especially Sunni Islamists – creates a more dangerous regional situation for Israel, which, in conjunction with the Iranian threat, may push the Israeli Right (the Likud Party) over the top in this next election.
Having said all of this, elections in the West are won and lost on the state of domestic politics and a country’s economic standing. The same will likely hold true for Israel. National security issues do play a large role when Israelis go to the polls; and when regional politics are more undefined and chaotic than usual, the Israeli Right does tend to prevail. But, by-and-large, Israelis still vote based on social services and tax rates. Religious tensions, increases in homelessness and high tax rates play as large, if not larger, factors than security issues during election periods in Israel. When assessing implications on the Israeli election process, it is important not to forget this: Elections are an instrument through which politicians in Israel can address both everyday needs of the public, as well as greater national demands. Solutions to issues of national security in Israel are both a ‘greater national demand’ and an ‘everyday need’, which is what makes issues like Iran and the Arab Spring so integral to the results of the Israeli election. However, don’t discount the power of domestic political platforms during election periods in Israel!