Snap elections will be held in Israel on the 17 September 2019 to elect the members of the Knesset. This follows elections in April, which failed to form a governing coalition. In May, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself prior to the expiration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presidential mandate to form a government. Rather than pass the mandate on to the main opposition leader, Benny Gantz, Netanyahu pushed for another round of elections in September.
Prime Ministerial candidates
Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud Party, pushed for the April election to be rerun to allow him another opportunity to form a government and secure his fifth term as prime minister. Netanyahu’s popularity has fallen over his last term as corruption scandals have emerged. In a last-minute bid to hold on to his position, Netanyahu has announced plans this week to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank (the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea). This is to appeal to right-wing support ahead of the election. Netanyahu may be able to lead another government if he can successfully agree a coalition with right-wing parties, which he failed to do in April. However, if he fails again he is unlikely to be given a third chance. The movement of the US embassy to Jerusalem earlier in the year recognised Israel’s claim to the city, and has given Netanyahu the opportunity to pursue further territory claims in the West Bank.
Gantz, a former army chief, has led the centrist Blue and White party since its establishment in February this year, to become the main opposition of the government. The party is not expected to win the election, but to come a very close second, after winning one less seat than Likud in April. It is possible that the party could enter into a unionist government with the Likud party. Gantz has previously shown his willingness to work with Netanyahu, so a compromise between the two could be possible.
Hezbollah – There has been an increase in violence on the Lebanon-Israel border in the past month, which has seen Israeli forces targeting Hezbollah in Syria, and indirect fire exchanges with south Lebanon. This reflects a deterioration of the already strained relationship, which increases fears of a return to war.
Russia – Ahead of Netanyahu’s plan to meet Putin next week, Russia has condemned the proposal to annex areas of the West Bank. Israel and Russia’s relationship is complicated by their involvement with opposing alliances in the Syrian civil war.
Arab Nations – Saudi Arabia and Jordan have criticised the annexation proposal. However, this response has been relative muted, due to the fading importance of the Palestinian territory to the wider region. The area proposed to be annexed is considered by the wider region as already under Israeli control, therefore the annexation will only be formalising the current situation.
Possible outcomes and risks to travellers
Conventional conflict – escalation of tensions with Lebanon, Russia and Iran may lead to conventional warfare on Israel’s borders and the possibility of airstrikes across the country. If this occurs, it is highly likely all travel will be shut down into and across Israel.
Asymmetric warfare – If the annexation of West Bank territories occurs, there is a high risk that Palestinian terrorist groups will carry out insurgent attacks. In this case, travel in Israel and across its border with the West Bank will likely be disrupted. However, there is a possibility the border will be closed altogether.
Reaction from Gaza – If the annexation of West Bank territories occurs, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip may react aggressively, increasing the chance of Israeli military intervention in the region. There is a high risk that this will severely disrupt travel around the border with Gaza.
No change – There has been speculation that Netanyahu’s planned annexation is only a political tool to win the upcoming election and may not occur, therefore diplomatic tensions will remain, but travel won’t be affected. Netanyahu made a similar statement prior to the April elections this year, however no action has been taking on that proposal since then.
NGS advises that travellers to Israel should:
– Reconsider all travel to the Gaza strip and within 5km of the borders with Lebanon and Syria.
– Be vigilant for any potential terrorist attack and consider areas that are most vulnerable to terrorism.
– Be prepared to follow the advice of local authorities in the event of any security incident.
– Monitor the media during and post the election period for developments in the political and security situation.
– Become familiar with local emergency procedures (including nearest emergency shelter) in the event of a terrorist attack.
– Avoid all discussion of political issues in public.
NGS advises that travellers to the West Bank should:
– Be prepared for lengthy procedures at border areas.
– Avoid all large crowds and demonstrations – consider remaining indoors if violent protests break out.
– Consider employing appropriate static and mobile security support.
– Make plans for alternative travel routes for all journeys.
– Research the areas where an escalation in tensions between the military and civilian population is most likely.
– Assess the security of transport, accommodation and offices before travel.
– Before departure, ensure plans are in place for emergency evacuation and remote medical assistance.
– Consider employing tracking support for all travel.
Author: Lauren Snelling, NGS Risk Analyst
NGS is an emergency evacuation company that runs tracking, remote medical and security operations for global clients.