by Adam Gonn
JERUSALEM, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak for his involvement in Israel-U.S. relations and thereby reignited speculation about earlier parliamentary elections,possibly as early as February 2013.
It was during a meeting on the next budget with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who belongs to the Likud party as does Netanyahu, that the premier said Barak has tried to play the role of the moderate savior, reconciling between Israel and the United Stated over how to best deal with Iran's nuclear weapons program, according to Channel 2 News.
Netanyahu reportedly made his comments after Steinitz cautioned that Barak might try to stop the passing of the budget.
The current mandate period of Netanyahu's government runs until the end of 2013.
"Barak and Netanyahu understand each other better than any other politicians that I have seen and right now it makes sense for them to temporarily break up," Gil Hoffman, the chief political correspondent for The Jerusalem Post newspaper, told Xinhua on Wednesday.
"Netanyahu, ahead of election, knows that he needs to shore up his support and that Barak had become an albatross getting in the way of that," Hoffman said.
Barak, for his part, "needs to prove his left-wing credentials and separate himself from Netanyahu. And in the end it's good for both of them," he added.
A stronger Independence party -- especially if it can draw voters from other left-wing parties such as Labor or Kadima -- would not only make the coalition stronger but also the opposition weaker.
Barak began his term as a member of the left-wing Labor party. However, when the party opted to leave the government in January 2011 due to its disappointment with Netanyahu's efforts in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Barak, together with four other Labor members of the Knesset (parliament), broke away and formed their own party known as the Independence party.
Polls conducted in May -- when only a surprise deal between Netanyahu and Kadima party chairman Shaul Mofaz averted a vote in the Knesset to set a date of earlier elections -- showed that the Independence party, which lacks an established voter base, wouldn' t pass the election threshold.
"Barak needs to show the difference of his Independence party. So it's really a matter about interests," said professor Avraham Diskin, of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The May polls also indicated that Likud would maintain and possibly even increase its mandates, and that Netanyahu would be able to continue as prime minister with a new coalition government.
Diskin said that the comments made by Netanyahu are "all linked to the possibility of new elections and the budget" and a sign that Barak needs to break out of Netanyahu's shadow.
He argued that elections are not so threatening from the point of view of Netanyahu, saying "if it's in his own hand... he will prefer serving a full term with the longest Knesset (session) ever in the history of Israel," Diskin said.
The budget needs to be passed before Nov. 1 and Netanyahu has announced that if the Knesset fails to pass "a responsible state budget," he would move up the elections.
If elections is held in February without a new budget being passed, Netanyahu will be able to avoid some of the issues that could hurt him, such as the continuation of the economic incentives implemented after the social justice protests in the summer of 2011, and the failure to reach an agreement regarding the service of ultra-orthodox Jews in the Israeli army, who today are exempt for the mandatory service.