Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a campaign speech tonight at a Likud event in Tel Aviv. While many media outlets are focusing on the dramatic rhetoric of the speech, Bibi made three important points that give analysts a sense of the campaign to come. Each point is likely to shore up the likelihood of a Likud victory in the elections to be held March 17.
First: "Likud is the only party organized enough to lead." Netanyahu referenced the multitude of Israeli political parties - a number which has increased after his announcement of new elections as MKs break away from Likud to form their own parties. He referred to the spate of centrist parties as "trendy," implying that they lack political expertise or relevance. Suggesting a two-party system, he identified "Likud and whatever Labor decides to call itself," a reference to the Labor party's unclear messaging and frequent leadership changes. As a final show of Likud party discipline, MK Tzipi Hotovely, who is currently contesting the Likud primary results after placing 26th, spoke at the rally.
Second: "Likud is the only party "strong" enough to handle international pressure. "Netanyahu used the specific rhetoric of strength against threats, a conception shared widely among the Israeli public. Directly challenging Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and HaTnuah leader Tzipi Livni, Bibi remarked, "They will stand up to Iran? To Hamas? They won't stand the pressure for even a second...They'll give up." Given that Israel's foreign policy stagnation is a major tenet of both party's criticisms of the Prime Minister, it will be important for Netanyahu to ensure these criticisms do not gain traction.
Third: "Re-electing Likud will decrease the instability of the Israeli political system." The frequency of elections in Israel is a source of frustration for some Israelis. Many Likud voters likely blame MKs Livni and Lapid for the most recent round (though Netanyahu himself is probably more responsible). Netanyahu announced plans for sweeping reforms of the political system that may resonate with the public. While they may resonate with some Likud voters, these plans lack any semblance of credibility. Netanyahu called for the largest party to automatically gain the Prime Minister's seat, but Netanyahu himself holds the position despite Kadima winning the vote in 2009. Netanyahu also called for the Prime Minister to be elected every four years, months after he himself called early elections. This point is shaky ground for the Likud, and one on which other parties may be able to gain some traction.
Overall, the speech was an indication of the success of Netanyahu's "divide and conquer" strategy. While other MKs are still politicking and forming parties, Likud is organized, campaigning, in control of the election story in the media, and making headway in the polls. Each factor solidifies the narrative of an inevitable Likud victory, one that no other party in the Israeli political space is in a position to challenge.