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Israel might bump up elections

| Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, 9:12 p.m.

JERUSALEM — Signs are growing that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will call parliamentary elections as early as February, months ahead of schedule, in a bid to capitalize on a wave of popularity and a fragmented opposition to guarantee his hold on power for several more years.

While Netanyahu has not made any formal announcement, several members of his coalition, including his foreign minister and the speaker of parliament, have signaled that elections are imminent. An official decision could be made in the next week or two as parliament opens its fall session, with February the likely date of the vote.

Netanyahu has presided over a relatively stable period. Re-election could give him a fresh mandate to continue his tough stance toward Iran's nuclear program.

Elections are scheduled a year from now. But Israeli coalition governments rarely last their full terms, and Netanyahu appears to have concluded that now is the time to strike.

“Think of a stock: His is high now and he wants to sell before it drops,” said veteran political analyst Hanan Crystal. “Bibi has no real challengers.” he said, using Netanyahu's nickname. “The gold medal has already been decided. Now the fight is over silver.”

Opinion polls put Netanyahu's Likud Party far ahead of all rivals, his coalition partners are vulnerable, the opposition is fractured and leaderless, and the only truly viable candidate to replace him, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is entangled in a legal battle that will keep him on the sidelines for months.

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