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Though Gaza looms large, Israelis also have elections to think about

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is popular among Israelis.

Story highlights

  • Elections are to be held in Israel on January 22
  • Experts say the Gaza situation is unlikely to affect the outcome of the voting
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set up a broad-based government
  • CNN speaks with Middle East expert Robert M. Danin about the situation

In the background of the drama playing out in Gaza and southern Israel, an election looms. On January 22, Israelis will go to the polls for early parliamentary voting.

In October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the early elections to ensure "a responsible security and economic policy" in the face of the economic downturn and threats to Israel's security from Iran and elsewhere. He took the step after failing to reach agreement on a budget with his coalition partners.

Is the recent fighting and hours-old cease-fire between Israel and Hamas likely to affect the elections? Probably not, experts said this week.

Over the past several years, Netanyahu has established a broad-based government, including both right-wing parties such as Likud, religious parties such as Haredi, and the left-leaning Labor Party.

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CNN spoke about the situation with Robert M. Danin, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.

    Netanyahu has been in power for seven years. What kind of reputation does he have amongst Israelis?

    Netanyahu is wildly popular among Israelis, and the offensive in Gaza has not lessened his standing. Over 90% of the populace who responded to a recent poll said they supported the operation Gaza, Danin said.

    That kind of poll result is common in the early days of a military operation, particularly when Israel is able to record successes on the ground, Rubin said.

    Generally, Netanyahu is regarded as a tough talker. In the run-up to the United States presidential election, he threatened to strike Iran.

    How the Middle East has changed

    If a cease-fire in Gaza doesn't hold, and Israel moves forward with a ground operation, would that affect Netanyahu's election odds in January?

    A ground operation makes it "much more politically risky for Netanyahu," Danin said, adding that the prime minister would have to deal with the loss of Israeli lives, and that could dial down popular support.

    It's possible that if the cease-fire doesn't hold, the election could be postponed, he said.

    Both Danin and Rubin were cautious in saying that there are too many variables in play in Gaza now to determine comfortably how an election on January 22 might play out.

    Timeline: Israel-Gaza conflict

    Some have said that Netanyahu's moves toward Gaza are politically motivated. Do you agree?

    Danin and Rubin dismissed any notion that Netanyahu is acting aggressively toward Gaza for political reasons.

    If you're popular, why take the risk of a military operation, and especially a ground invasion that could sacrifice Israeli lives?

    "When you're going to (initiate a) ground operation, you don't know how it's going to end or rebound politically," Danin said. "This is not a prime minister known for taking great risks."

    How the conflict reignited

    Is there anything that could really hurt Netanyahu in January?

    Both analysts said Netanyahu's "worst nightmare" politically would be if a ground offensive led to the abduction of an Israeli soldier.

    That would hearken back to the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli citizen who was a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. Hamas militants abducted him inside Israel in a raid near the border with Gaza in 2006. He was held for more than five years and released in October 2011.

    "Hamas would love nothing more than a repeat of Shalit," Danin said.

      Israel-Gaza conflict

    • iReporter and keen photographer Makandel heard about protests outside the White House in Washington DC over Gaza and arrived to find competing demonstrations between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian supporters.

      Are you in the region? Share photos and video of what you are witnessing, but please do not expose yourself or others to a dangerous situation.
    • Follow CNNArabic for the latest news and analysis from the Middle East and rest of the world.
    • Palestinians celebrate waving Fatah and Hamas flags at the square of the Unknown Soldier in central Gaza City on November 22, 2012. Israeli politicians returned to the campaign trail as the streets of Gaza came back to life after a truce ended eight days of bloodshed, with both sides claiming victory while remaining wary. AFP PHOTO/MARCO LONGARI (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

      Palestinian Authority leaders renewed calls for unity with their Hamas-led rivals after the latest Israel-Gaza conflict, but the fighting may have left Hamas with the upper hand.
    • TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 21: Emergency services respond to the scene of an explosion on a bus with passengers onboard on November 21, 2012 in central Tel Aviv, Israel. At least ten people have been injured in a blast on a bus near military headquarters in what is being described as terrorist attack, which threatens to derail ongoing cease-fire negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian authorities.  (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

      The relentless pace of the Israeli airstrike on Gaza gave the country's military time to make a significant dent in the offensive capability of Hamas, the Israeli military said.
    • Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (R) and his Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr (L) meet with US Secretary Hillary Clinton at the presidential palace in Cairo on November 21, 2012. Clinton's visit comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed an bringing an end to the conflict which has killed over 130 people in a week. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

      However crude the calculation, the winners and losers in the Israel-Gaza conflict are already reshaping political alliances in the Middle East.
    • Palestinians extinguish fire from the car of Ahmaed Jaabari, head of the military wing of the Hamas movement, the Ezzedin Qassam Brigades, after it was hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on November 14, 2012.

      What is the group, where did it come from and what does it hope to achieve by its rocket attacks on Israeli targets? CNN explains.