Election fever grips the Israeli press on Monday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that he might hold early elections in 2012 instead of 2013. Speculation floods the front pages as to when elections will be held and how the various parties will fare. Despite the fact that the announcement is tentative and hasn’t yet been set in stone, the press already considers early elections a fait accompli.

Yedioth Ahronoth writes that “the question now is not whether early Knesset elections will be held, but when.” It says that Netanyahu is interested in the possibility of August 21, 28, or September 4, while opposition leader Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) seeks a later date, in October. Yedioth Ahronoth adds that Netanyahu is trying to catch his opponents off guard by holding elections sooner.

According to a poll the paper conducted, Likud will earn 30 seats, followed by Labor with 18, Yisrael Beitenu with 13, Kadima with 11, Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid with 11, and Shas with 7. Should formerly incarcerated Shas leader Aryeh Deri take the party’s reins from Eli Yishai, it would take 11 seats. Should Kadima MK Tzipi Livni join Lapid, the Yesh Atid party is expected to become the second-largest party with 16 seats, at the expense of Kadima, Labor, and Likud.

Maariv’s headline calls the snap election move “Netanyahu’s blitz.” It says the elections could be held as early as August 14 or as late as October 9. It writes that Netanyahu’s move demonstrates that he is confident in his ability to be reelected for a third term, and that he can do so without damaging relations with his Yisrael Beitenu and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

The ultra-Orthodox parties see things differently, however. Maariv quotes United Torah Judaism Chairman Yisrael Eichler saying: “This is a punching contest between the prime minister and Foreign Minister [Avigdor] Liberman against the ultra-Orthodox; the public will vote for whoever can beat the ultra-Orthodox more and who will stab more knives in the back of the ultra-Orthodox community.”

Israel Hayom leads with “Elections apparent in late summer,” but quotes senior government officials in its subheading urging restraint because early elections are not yet set. Its election poll, compared to Yedioth Ahronoth’s, places the right-wing bloc firmly in power. Its poll shows that Likud will get 31 seats, followed by Labor with 17, Yisrael Beitenu with 14, Kadima with 13, Yesh Atid with 12, and Shas with 9.

Haaretz’s headline says there will be elections within six months, either at the end of August or immediately after the High Holidays (which end in early October). It provides a detailed breakdown of the seven major parties’ reactions to the news of a early general election. Likud activists celebrated the possibility of early elections, and estimated that the party could receive an unprecedented 50 or more seats. Labor is eager for elections because it is expected to make significant gains under its new leadership. Kadima feels that summer elections would be too soon, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Independence party dreads them.

The establishment of Lapid’s new political party, Yesh Atid, gets surprisingly little coverage. Maariv devotes four brief paragraphs to the announcement, and Haaretz buries the lede deep in the election coverage. Israel Hayom writes a short, one-paragraph article announcing the formation of Yesh Atid. Yedioth Ahronoth mentions it in a graphic as part of a larger story about political parties’ preparedness for snap elections.

Tal Law rises

Universal conscription has become a central issue for the upcoming elections. The Supreme Court in February struck down the Tal Law, which effectively gave ultra-Orthodox draftees an exemption from army service. Politicians now seek a viable compromise to balance ultra-Orthodox participation in civil society and the military’s needs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Sunday with leaders of the “Suckers Tent” and reportedly told them he will propose a law which would mandate ultra-Orthodox conscription and civil service for Arab Israelis. Regarding the Tal Law, Haaretz quotes the prime minister saying “what was will not be.”

“The Tal Law will be replaced by another law — more equal and more just — and I will bring it to a Knesset vote,” he said.

Nahum Barnea writes in Yedioth Ahronoth that Netanyahu has made an about-face on the conscription issue because of the upcoming elections. To maximize voter support, he writes, “Netanyahu will dress up like everything: like Lapid on the draft issue, like Daphni Leef on social issues, like Barak on security issues, like [Dan] Meridor on legal issues, and like [Moshe] Feiglin on the settlements issue.”

Diskin drama

Haaretz writer Merav Michaeli calls the brouhaha over former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin’s excoriating comments about Netanyahu and Barak “a battle between little gladiators in the mud.” She wonders what Diskin aimed to accomplish by warning the Israeli public about their leadership, and what he expects the public to do about it.

She is resigned to the idea that there is nothing to do: “We are helplessly caught between the fear that Netanyahu is drumming into us, of a holocaust perpetrated against us by Iran, and the fear that Diskin and Dagan are drumming into us, of a holocaust perpetrated against us by Netanyahu.”

Dr. Haim Shine writes in Israel Hayom that Diskin and his “bizarre chorus of former security chiefs,” which includes former Mossad head Meir Dagan and former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, are “trying to create the impression that Netanyahu and Barak, due to their love for battle, are just counting the minutes and seconds to issue the Israel Defense Forces with instructions to attack.”

He argues that Diskin’s words only imperil Israel and weaken its stance against its enemies. Contrary to the intentions of his coterie, “Their talk… is likely to lead ultimately to an actual attack on Iran.”