— Israel is heading to early elections amid growing tensions with Iran over its nuclear program.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on national television Tuesday to make the announcement. He said he is being forced to form a new government because the current coalition is not able to agree on a budget for 2013.
The prime minister called for early elections, capitalizing on a wave of popularity for his Likud Party.
If Netanyahu wins, as analysts expect, it could give him a mandate for a tougher stance against Iran.
The prime minister said Israel is facing many challenges. The first one he mentioned was preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. But Israel considers a nuclear Iran a threat to its existence. Netanyahu has warned that if Western diplomacy fails, he might order a preemptive military strike on Iran’s atomic facilities.
The United States opposes that, saying international sanctions should be given more time.
Israeli opposition leader Shaul Mofaz of the Kadima Party welcomed the call for early elections.
Mofaz said it is time to replace the current government, which he said has isolated Israel politically. He has accused Netanyahu of harming relations with Washington and he has warned that if Israel attacks Iran, it could spark a regional war. But public opinion surveys show Mofaz has virtually no chance of unseating the prime minister.
The elections are due to take place early next year, about eight months ahead of schedule.
Israeli political parties