In a surprise twist for Israeli and Middle East politics, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed a unity government with a rival political party, solidifying his power and delaying elections for at least another year. Opposition leader, Shaul Mofaz, who took over the Kadima Party just two weeks ago — after vowing to never join Netanyahu's government — will become a member of the cabinet as deputy prime minister. Also, an early election that had been scheduled for September 4 will now be called off.
There are several immediate effects of the move, the most glaring of which is that cripples the other, more liberal opposition parties that were hoping to make big gains in the upcoming election, but will now have to wait a whole other year to pick up any more seats in parliament. It also gives Netanyahu's united group 94 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset, making the coalition nearly unassailable legislatively. As part of the deal Netanyahu will back the expiration of a law that allows ultra-Orthodox jewish men to exempt themselves from public service, which was a key issue for Mofaz and his party.
Other members of the opposition were furious, calling the deal a "disgusting political alliance" and a "mega-stinking maneuver by a prime minister." Yair Lapid, a TV anchor who quit his job to form a new political party, said it was "corrupt and ugly." His new party, which has yet to earn any seats in the government, will now have to wait until October 2013, before it can actually take part in a vote.
But the biggest question for the global community is: What about Iran? Mofaz (who incidentally, was born in Iran) has previously opposed talk of a military strike on that country's nuclear program, arguing that the Palestinian question is a much greater threat to Israeli safety. (Mofaz will now take a leading role in dealing with Palestinian issues.) However, joining with Netanyahu creates an implicit endorsement of whatever policies the prime minister chooses to undertake. It widens his powerbase and also eliminates the biggest obstacle that any politician might face: the chance to get thrown out of office. For the rest of this year and into next, Netanyahu will have much greater freedom to pursue his preferred plans for Iran, whatever they may be.
In short, this move doesn't automatically mean that an attack on Iran in imminent. However... if Netanyahu does decide that an attack is necessary, there will be little to stand in his way. (It could also work as bargaining chip, too, by showing Iran that the country is fully united.) Whatever his eventual goals, Netanyahu now has the stability and strength to take almost any course of action he chooses. After such a brilliant political maneuver, it almost seems like an understatement to call the prime minister "the king of Israeli politics."