TEL AVIV // The deal between Israel's ruling Likud party and its ultranationalist, anti-Arab coalition partner to run together in January's election may give Benjamin Netanyahu a wider political backing to launch a possible strike on Iran's nuclear sites, analysts said.
Should Mr Netanyahu's gamble to bring Yisrael Beiteinu on to his ticket prove successful in the election, he could have a freer hand to make crucial policy decisions that have wider implications for the Middle East.
He has repeatedly called Tehran's nuclear programme the biggest threat to Israel's security, although the US opposes such a strike and many in Israel's own security establishment have also resisted the idea.
"This is a rare moment of truth in Israeli politics," said Yaron Ezrahi, a political analyst. "Netanyahu's mask has come off. He has chosen to go all the way with the extreme right-wing, anti-Arab, fanatic and nationalist forces of Israeli politics."
Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of Israel's Haaretz newspaper, wrote yesterday that now only opposition from the US could "delay or thwart" a strike on Iran.
Mr Netanyahu said on October 16 that Israel had not ruled out unilateral action against Iran.
"Anyone who belittles the threat which a nuclear Iran poses to Israel is not worthy of leading Israel for even one day," he told members of parliament. "Today we have the capabilities to act against Iran and its satellites; capabilities that we did not possess in the past."
The political partnership, announced on Thursday, also paves the way for Avigdor Lieberman, the far-right foreign minister and Yisrael Beiteinu head, to run for the premiership in the coming years by making him the second-most powerful politician in what has now become the biggest party running in the ballot.
"Lieberman has never hidden the fact that his ambition was to possibly become prime minister," said Gabriel Weimann, an expert on political campaigns at Israel's Haifa University. "He has positioned himself as the possible future leader of the Likud party, from which he can run for the premiership in the next few years."
Such a prospect may draw hostility from Israel's western allies as well as from Arab countries because of Mr Lieberman's blunt rhetoric against Israel's Arab minority, staunch support for settlement expansion in the West Bank and opposition to making concessions to the Palestinians.
While Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu said their joint run in the election will not lead to a merger of the two parties, their alliance is still likely to form the basis of the next Israeli coalition government should they win the ballot.
According to analysts, both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Lieberman were concerned that a possible coalition of parties from the centre and the left could challenge their return to power.
Currently, Likud has 27 seats in Israel's 120-member parliament and Yisrael Beiteinu holds 15 slots. Mr Lieberman yesterday was quoted by Israeli media as estimating the two parties may garner altogether 50 seats in the January 22 ballot.
Still, a poll released yesterday by Israel's Television Channel 2 dampened hopes for such a win by suggesting the joint list may only draw 33 seats. While that still likely puts the united movement ahead of rivals, it would provide Mr Netanyahu with a less influential political base than he had hoped.
Some analysts also said the pact shows that Mr Netanyahu has abandoned any attempts to depict himself as a moderate centrist, a tactic he has employed in the most recent election in 2009 to try to draw more voters from the centre.
Israel's centre roughly includes voters who support the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and who are often antagonistic to the anti-Arab legislation advanced by Mr Lieberman's party.
According to Mr Ezrahi, there is almost no ideological difference between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Lieberman, although the latter has just been more publicly open about his views.
Mr Lieberman, who faces an indictment on corruption charges, has drawn much ire not only from centrist and leftist parties but also from some prominent officials within Likud.
His Yisrael Beiteinu party has pushed through legislation blasted as undemocratic and that targets Israel's Arab citizens as well as rights groups critical of the country's approach towards the Palestinians. That includes advocating for Israeli citizens to sign a loyalty oath to Israel or lose their right to vote as well as slapping a 45 per cent tax on the foreign donations of rights organisations.