Source: PM won't use Iran threat for political gain

Date of the next general election will depend on a national budget, not the Iranian nuclear issue, source close to Netanyahu says.

Netanyahu R370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu R370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not intend to indicate the date of the next general election when he said in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Thursday that the world’s red line for preventing Iran’s nuclearization must be next spring, sources close to Netanyahu said on Sunday.
Before the speech, the main factor in Netanyahu’s decision was thought to be whether he could pass the 2013 state budget, which must pass in the cabinet and be submitted to the Knesset by November 1.
Netanyahu’s associates had said that if he could obtain enough support from coalition partners, he would pass the budget and elections could take place as scheduled in October 2013. But if he saw he could not pass the budget, he could initiate an election when the Knesset returns from its recess on October 15 that could be held as early as January.
But the speech raised speculation that the prime minister would either initiate an election as soon as possible in order to exploit his advantage over his political rivals on the Iran threat, or use the issue to persuade coalition partners that they had to compromise on the budget to maintain political stability ahead of a possible war.
“By next spring, at most by next summer at current [uranium] enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage,” Netanyahu raised speculation by saying in the speech. “From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”
In an interview with Channel 2, the prime minister denied any connection between the Iran deadline and the political timetable in Israel. Sources close to Netanyahu advised not to read too much into the speech when it came to politics.
“It is clear to everyone that it is better for the prime minister that the election would focus on Iran and not the economy,” a source close to Netanyahu said. “But he should not and will not use the Iran issue to play politics.”
Netanyahu will convene his advisers during the intermediate days of Succot and make a decision on the election date by next week.
He is expected to announce his decision at a Likud faction meeting on October 15 or possibly the day before.
On October 14, a key meeting will be held on the defense budget. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s outgoing chief of staff David Sharan said that if Defense Minister Ehud Barak would not allow defense cuts, the budget could not pass. Barak said in an interview with Israel HaYom that it should be obvious to anyone following regional developments that defense cuts at such a sensitive time would be unwise.
While both Yisrael Beytenu and Shas have hinted recently that they would be willing to compromise on the budget, the Likud’s smallest coalition partner, Habayit Hayehudi with three MKs, flexed its muscles and indicated that its support could not be taken for granted.
Leadership candidate MK Zevulun Orlev said that if the new budget did not significantly cut parental fees in religious education, especially in high schools, he would not vote for the budget in the Knesset Finance Committee and he would recommend that his colleagues in the faction did the same in the Knesset plenum.
“We are not in anyone’s pocket,” Orlev said. “Our support for any budget is not automatic. We are a socioeconomic party and we will insist that the budget ease the socioeconomic gaps, diminish poverty and lower the cost of living for the middle class.”