Israel is still 89 days from elections, but the exchange of blows currently taking place in Gaza is the type of event that can play a key role in an election campaign, knocking way off to the side the social/economic issues that parties such as Labor and Yesh Atid want to put at the center of the agenda.
True, three months is still a long way away. But there is no guarantee that the escalation we are witnessing now, even if calm is restored, will not return closer to Election Day. This, of course, could give Hamas oversized influence on the vote.
If the border stays quiet, social/economic issues will get greater play in the campaign. If Hamas rains down rockets and missiles on the south as they did on Wednesday, these issues will figure less prominently. We have been there before. President Shimon Peres, who lost in the 1996 elections to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, blames to this day a spate of suicide bombings in the weeks and months prior to that election for his defeat.
Whether we like it or not, the security situation the reigns in the country near the election will impact on the outcome. Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, who will run a campaign centered on social/economic issues, obviously realizes this.
Still, on Tuesday she rallied around the troops and the home front, saying – in contrast to the heads of Kadima and Meretz – that she was giving her backing to Netanyahu and "understands the complexity of the situation whereby the IDF needs to act alongside showing restraint." "It is important for me to show my support for the citizens of the south in their difficult hour," she said. "The IDF is doing excellent work and we count on it with a full heart." The importance of the security situation on the nation's psyche is obviously not lost on Netanyahu, who has already made enhanced security in the country over the last few years a centerpiece of his campaign.
"Four years ago thousands of missiles and rockets fell on Israeli citizens in the south of Israel," Netanyahu said when he announced new elections last week in the Knesset.
"We restored security to the citizens of Israel," he said. "We enacted an aggressive policy, we improved deterrence. We did it with discretion and responsibility, but first we cancelled the policy of restraint. That is a policy that always, always leads to escalation and ultimately to war. Instead we introduced a policy of aggressively responding to all firing, and also preemptively responding to prevent firing." That was last week, before the recent escalation.