JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Tuesday called for elections early next year instead of as scheduled in October 2013, saying that conversations with his coalition partners had proved it would be impossible to pass "a responsible budget" with deep cuts.
"Sadly, parties and factions find it difficult to put aside their personal interests and prioritize national interests," Mr. Netanyahu said in a five-minute speech timed to the start of the nightly news here. "The good of the State of Israel requires going to elections now, and as quickly as possible. It is preferable for Israel to have a short election campaign of three months rather than what would effectively end up a yearlong campaign that would damage the Israeli economy."
The balloting could be as early as Jan. 15, but many here have speculated it would be set for mid-February, which would make Mr. Netanyahu's the first Israeli government in more than two decades to complete a four-year term. A victory around the same time that the United States is either inaugurating a new president or starting a second Obama term would probably embolden the prime minister, allowing him to continue his aggressive approach toward Iran, while mostly ignoring the Palestinian conflict.
The campaign begins with the prime minister and his right-leaning Likud Party in strong positions, political analysts said, while the center is fragmented, and Shelly Yacimovich, the leader of the Labor Party, has little credibility with the public for the top job because she lacks security credentials.
With his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly saying the spring would be the critical deadline for stopping Iran from having the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb, Mr. Netanyahu helped ensure that his signature issue would be at the center of the campaign debate. True to form, he mentioned Iran and other security matters repeatedly in his short statement, a bullet-point version of his likely stump speech.
Analysts here said the critical question of the campaign was not whether Mr. Netanyahu would win, but whether he would retain what are known as his "natural allies" -- right-wing and religious parties -- or make a move to the center to form a broader, or at least different, coalition, perhaps with different priorities. "The battle is really on the center," said Abraham Diskin, a political scientist at Hebrew University and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. "I'm sure he will try to form a coalition with centrist parties."
Mr. Netanyahu originally announced in May that the time had come for a new vote, only to reverse course the next day with a secret late-night deal to form a so-called unity government with the leader of the Kadima Party, Shaul Mofaz.
That partnership unraveled two months later over a failure to resolve the question of how many ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students should be exempt from military service, an issue that has since faded from public discussion, to the chagrin of Mr. Mofaz, who on Tuesday described the election as "an opportunity to replace Netanyahu's bad government that had isolated Israel, damaged its deterrence, and weakened its middle class."
One wild card is Tzipi Livni, who was ousted as head of Kadima early this year and is weighing a re-entry, perhaps heading a new party or joining with Ms. Yacimovich. Writing on Facebook Tuesday night, Ms. Livni did not reveal her plans but said, "Today Israel needs to re-examine its path."
Gabriel Weimann, a professor of communication at the University of Haifa, said he was struck by the fact that Mr. Netanyahu did not mention his Likud Party as he highlighted accomplishments of the past four years.
"He spoke about give me the mandate again, trust me again, re-elect me," Professor Weimann said. "This is going to be a very, very personal type of election."
Isabel Kershner and Gabby Soleman contributed reporting.
Correction: October 10, 2012, Wednesday
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously attributed a distinction to Shelly Yacimovich. She is the head of Israel's Labor Party. She is no longer the opposition leader of the Parliament. That post is held by Shaul Mofaz of the Kadima Party.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.