Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has officially launched his reelection campaign, saying he is the candidate best prepared to protect Israel from threats posed by the nuclear program of rival Iran.
In a speech in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said Iran was continuing to advance its nuclear program.
He also voiced concerns about threats from the anti-Israel Hizbollah and Hamas organizations, and instability in the Middle East caused by radical Islamists.
Iran denies Israeli and Western allegations that it is seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability under the guise of its civilian atomic program.
Opinion polls show Netanyahu’s Likud party, running jointly with the ultranationalist Israel Beiteinu party of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is likely to win Israel’s January 22 elections.
In his address on December 25 in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said his first priority in a new term would be to block Iran’s nuclear program from threatening Israel. He also spoke of other threats to the Jewish state.
"The state of Israel faces huge challenges, and I have to tell you this honestly before the elections," he said.
"Iran is still advancing in its nuclear program, Hizbollah and Hamas equip themselves with rockets. Radical Islam is taking over the region, it makes regimes collapse one after the other. Some people say, in the face of this rising wave, some people prefer to give up, let go, and wave a white flag. Not us, not us."
Israel has declined to rule out military action to hobble the Iranian nuclear program.
In September, Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly that Iran could have enough material to make a nuclear bomb by the summer of 2013. Iran rejects such claims.
Netanyahu also said Israel remains open for peace talks with the Palestinians. But he also vowed to press on with Israeli settlements on land Palestinians want for a future state.
Israel has recently announced plans to build thousands of housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These plans have been condemned by Israel’s ally the United States and other members of the international community for posing a threat to the peace process.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for the past two years, with the Palestinians demanding that Israel halt all settlement activity before further negotiations. Israel has rejected the demand as an unacceptable precondition.
The hard-line and controversial Lieberman resigned as foreign minister earlier in December after he was charged with “breach of trust” in connection with his alleged receipt of Justice Ministry documents related to an investigation of him. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Since the indictment was announced, opinion polls have suggested a slight decline in voter support for the joint ticket between Likud and Lieberman’s party.
Based on reporting from Reuters and AFP