An upsurge in violence in the West Bank or Gaza could have a dramatic effect on the upcoming Israeli election. The campaigns have been sleepy so far, but terror and security issues are bound to stir up emotion. Ultimately, terrorists may hold the key to deciding the election results, but there is a catch: It is hard to predict who will benefit most from a violent eruption.
Normally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gains from a focus on security. Perceptions of threat and instability enable him to highlight his tough rhetoric and unmatched experience in defense affairs. As a rule, hawkish right-wing leaders perform better when security is at stake.
However, this time Netanyahu faces some problems. Having been in power for more than 10 consecutive years, he is more likely to take the blame for any negative developments. Moreover, he has been soft on Hamas in Gaza for long months, thereby denting his image as Mr. Security.
The Gantz Factor
Another factor is Netanyahu’s chief rival, former IDF Chief Benny Gantz. In the past, Netanyahu created a sense of impending danger among voters by pointing to militarily soft or inexperienced opponents. This approach will be less effective against a party led by three former generals.
An escalation in terror attacks could push voters to embrace Netanyahu as the best choice for troubled times. However, a violent outbreak could also have the opposite effect, convincing many voters to give Gantz a chance. Notably, the former army chief’s campaign pledges have been more aggressive than Netanyahu’s.
And then there is Iran. A fight with Hezbollah or pro-Iranian militias on the northern border would magnify the issues and raise the stakes. A clash with the Iranians or their proxies would dominate the agenda and weigh heavily on voters’ minds. However, it would also create a sense of a national emergency and increase the likelihood of a unity government.