The call by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for parliamentary elections in early 2013 instead of next October, when they would be required, is significant to the United States for two reasons.
First, the elections, in January or February, will occur not long after the U.S. presidential election, affecting relations with the United States to some extent. If Republican Mitt Romney defeats President Barack Obama, Mr. Netanyahu will see his prospects in the Israeli elections improved. He has actively favored Mr. Romney, in spite of the fact that Mr. Obama has pursued a strong pro-Israeli policy in defense and security cooperation as well as at the United Nations in opposing the Palestinian effort to achieve membership.
The second reason that holding the elections earlier is meaningful for America is that Mr. Netanyahu is not likely to launch an attack on Iran, drawing in the United States, before then. He would not want to open himself to criticism by Israelis that he took his nation to war just to help his election prospects. That makes it doubtful that the United States will be dragged into another Middle Eastern war before its presidential election next month or even during the period before the inauguration.
One complicating factor is that Mr. Netanyahu sounded a false alarm earlier this year on holding elections. Last May he announced them, then changed his mind after forming an alliance with the centrist Kadima party, which gave his right-wing Likud party a large majority coalition in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Two months later the coalition fell apart, and he found himself once more depending for a majority on religious and other right-wing parties.
Some observers see Mr. Netanyahu's prospects for victory in early elections as good, but Israeli politics are volatile and personalized, and depend to some degree on the state of U.S. relations. Other major figures to watch on the way to election day include Kadima's Shaul Mofaz and Tzipi Livni and Labor's Shelly Yachimovich.