The fallout between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak makes top headlines in all the Hebrew papers today. The prime minister accused Barak of playing a double game in his role as go-between with the US government, a swipe taken by many to signal the end of their sturdy partnership and a clear indication that early elections are on the way.

Add to that the fact that Netanyahu declared that unless a responsible budget is submitted in 10 days — a long shot by any reckoning — he would call for elections in February, and you can hear the starting pistol going off for campaign season.

“The rift,” reads Yedioth Ahronoth‘s main headline, in dramatic white-on-red lettering, below photos of Netanyahu and Barak. Analyst Nahum Barnea’s story explains that it is no coincidence that Netanyahu decided to kick off the election season by breaking with Barak, and that his reasons were entirely political. Netanyahu needs to make substantial cuts to the defense budget and a sure way to do so is by weakening Barak and thus ensuring Likud support for the cuts, he argues.

Maariv‘s top headline reads: “It smells like elections: The PM attacks the defense minister.” Reporter Mazal Mualem’s explanation for the uncharacteristic rebuke is that Netanyahu is looking to transfer the responsibility for holding early elections on to his coalition partners, to make it appear as if his hand was forced.

Haaretz‘s top story makes the same assertion, while Israel Hayom quotes sources close to the prime minister saying that Barak felt that he had to differentiate himself from the prime minister in order to reap a measure of voter support and give his tiny Independence party a chance to cross the electoral threshold in the next elections.

A second story that makes all front pages today is the surprise firing of Shai Agassi from the helm of electric car company Better Place. The Israeli founder and CEO was booted by other board members after leading the company to hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

“After burning through $610 million, Shai Agassi dismissed from Better Place,” reads the Haaretz headline. Israel Hayom calls the move an “earthquake.”

Yedioth’s business section features an interview with Agassi, in which he talks about his commitment to the electric car project and his love for the company. As 10% owner, Agassi will remain on Better Place’s board of directors.

Maariv announces the Jerusalem municipality’s plan to finally grant street names and numbers to the city’s eastern neighborhoods 45 years after Israel captured them in the Six Day War. According to the article, City Hall believes that the move will strengthen Israel’s sovereignty over all parts of the city and voted to earmark one million shekels for the project.

Haaretz features a front-page story on a new European Union initiative to force retailers to clearly label goods manufactured in West Bank settlements. The active force behind the move, according to the article, is Danish Foreign Minister Villy Sovndal, who has manged so far to garner the support of France, Britain and other EU countries. Israel fears the move will lead to a general boycott of settlement goods and could encourage a boycott of goods manufactured inside Israel proper.

In the good news/bad news slot, Israel Hayom reports that though the water levels in the Sea of Galilee are at their highest point since 2004, Dead Sea water levels suffered a fall of one-and-a-half meters over the past year, the sharpest drop ever recorded.

Foreign influence

In Yedioth’s opinion page, defense expert Giora Eiland explains Russia’s refusal to act against Iran’s nuclear program. “Russia behaves differently from the US, not because it is interested in Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb, on the contrary…. Anybody looking for logic in the Russian stance on Iran, Syria and in the past Libya, must understand that Moscow will attempt to torpedo any Washington move as a matter of principle.”

Eiland writes that it would be wise for the US to give in to Russia on lesser issues in exchange for bringing them on board against Iran.

In Haaretz, political scientist Shlomo Avineri calls for legislation barring foreign nationals from donating to political campaigns in Israel. Following an Haaretz story last week that revealed that of the 46 people who contributed money to Netanyahu for the Likud leadership primary last January, 37 were Americans, Avineri writes that “There is no doubt that the ability of foreign nationals to contribute so substantially to primary campaigns undermines the right of Israeli citizens to choose their representatives to the Knesset.”

Avineri argues in favor of legislation prohibiting political donations from non-citizens. Barring that, he urges pro-democracy organizations to take the matter before the High Court of Justice.