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Israel's Leader Calls For Early Elections
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for early elections - a move that might increase the likelihood of a military strike on Iran.
Speaking at a conference of his Likud party, Mr Netanyahu suggested the vote - originally scheduled for autumn 2013 - should be brought forward to this September.
He said: "I believe we will get a renewed mandate from the citizens of Israel to continue to lead the country. With God's help, we will form as wide a government as possible.
"I won't lend my hand to an election campaign that will last a year and a half and damage the state. A short campaign of four months is better. That can return stability to the political system quickly."
The change of date has been widely predicted in Israel where Mr Netanyahu is seen as keen to strengthen his mandate to address domestic and foreign policy issues - including Iran's nuclear programme - at a time when he is riding high in the opinion polls.
His right-wing Likud party is set to emerge as the biggest winner which will allow him to form a new coalition government for a second consecutive term as prime minister, and his third overall.
Israel's electoral system, where several dominant political parties and numerous small ones compete for control of the 120-seat Knesset (parliament), always produces coalition rule.
Opinion polls suggest the Likud will win at least 31 seats, followed by the left-wing Labour party with 20, and the ultra right-wing Israel Beiteinu party with 12.
Israel Beiteinu, whose leader foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has taken a strong role in the current coalition, is a leading proponent of the controversial expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Mr Netanyahu is facing a number of domestic political challenges in the coming months, including a looming decision on whether to make military service compulsory for ultra-religious Jews.
The exemption for the ultra-orthodox community has caused anger among secular Israelis who accuse them of dodging their duty.
Analysts say the move to call early elections in Israel has also been influenced by America's looming presidential election.
Mr Netanyahu is said to fear that US President Barack Obama will take a tougher line against any Israeli strike on Iran if he is elected to a second term.
But even if Mr Netanyahu wins a strengthened mandate his new coalition partners may still baulk at backing a pre-emptive strike, particularly in the absence of US support.