Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision on Monday ‎to call early elections was not entirely unexpected, ‎but it still caught some Israeli parties ‎off-guard.‎

The elections, due in November next year, have been moved up ‎to April 9, and experts are already predicting a ‎tumultuous campaign in which the smaller ‎parties will do their best to chip away at what early ‎polls say is a guaranteed Likud win.‎

Polls conducted over the past year, and especially ‎since Monday, predict Likud will, at the very least, ‎retain power and win 30 Knesset seats.

But party ‎insiders warn of complacency, saying overconfidence ‎may prove to be the party’s Achilles’ heel.‎

The ruling party faces no real threat from any of ‎the opposition parties and Netanyahu’s popularity ‎continues to soar among his base and right-wing ‎voters in general, despite the legal issues he faces. ‎

Complicating the issue are tensions within ‎Likud, which are likely to make for particularly ‎charged primaries. ‎

No date has been set for Likud’s internal elections ‎at this time, but they must be held in the ‎next two months. Party veterans and newcomers alike are eyeing the top 15 slots, and campaigns by Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny ‎Danon, former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar and former ‎Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat are likely to exacerbate ‎tensions within the party. ‎

Meanwhile, Habayit Hayehudi, which represents ‎the religious Zionist sector, is facing something ‎of an identity crisis. The party is torn between ‎preserving its base, which demands that it continue to ‎champion its ultra-conservative platform, and the desire by ‎party leader Naftali Bennett and his dominant ‎second Ayelet Shaked to branch out of the ‎‎“sectorial party box” and broaden Habayit Hayehudi’s ‎appeal.‎

Over the past few months, Bennett and Shaked ‎have consistently tried to “out-right” Netanyahu on various ‎issues, while simultaneously pulling Habayit ‎Hayehudi in a more liberal direction, which ‎may end up costing it the votes of its conservative ‎base.‎

Habayit Hayehudi currently holds eight Knesset ‎seats. Recent polls predict that it is likely to strengthen and win 11 or 12 ‎seats in an election.‎

The situation is equally complex for Kulanu, which has a largely economic ‎platform and whose success therefore hinges on ‎market performance and hot-button issues such as the ‎cost of living and housing prices. ‎

Kulanu leader Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s ‎election campaign—unofficially launched weeks ago—is clouded by a recent wave of price hikes, which ‎he has been able to block only partially.‎

Moreover, the party’s Knesset list, which is determined by ‎its central committee rather than through primaries, ‎is heading for a shake-up, with exits ‎expected in favor of other ‎parties, including Likud.‎

Kahlon has made it clear he would like to ‎remain finance minister in the next ‎government, but with the polls predicting that his party ‎will ‎drop from its current 10 mandates to six at best, it is unclear whether he will get his ‎wish. ‎

The religious parties may have less to be concerned ‎about with regard to their voter base, but they are ‎plagued with inner conflicts that may affect their ‎performance in the polls. ‎

Cost of living is an issue for the average Israeli when shopping for food. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

Shas, the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Party, is wrestling ‎with inner conflicts over the corruption allegations ‎surrounding its leader, Aryeh Deri, although it still ‎managed a solid performance in the local ‎elections in October. ‎

The party has no real leadership contingency if ‎Deri is indicted, and his legal troubles may erode ‎its power come the election, as polls predict the ‎party will drop from its current seven mandates to ‎four or five seats. ‎

Meanwhile, former Shas chairman Eli Yishai announced ‎Tuesday that his party, Yahad (“Together”), will vie ‎in the next election. The party did not pass the ‎‎3.25 percent electoral threshold in the 2015 elections and ‎chances of it being elected into the Knesset in 2019 ‎are slim.‎

Things appear to be more stable over at United Torah ‎Judaism, the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party.‎

The party is expected to improve its position in the ‎Knesset come April, winning seven seats from its ‎current six, but here, too, party insiders warn of ‎complacency. ‎

Recent months have seen a growing rift between Degel ‎Hatorah and Agudat ‎Israel ‎representatives in the ‎party, which according to sectorial polls does not sit ‎well with its haredi voter base and may affect voter ‎turnout. ‎

Curveballs and dark horses

Over in the opposition, the Zionist Union—the alliance between the Labor ‎and Hatnuah parties—is predicted ‎to be the biggest loser in the coming election. Most polls ‎predict the faction will drop from its current 24 ‎seats to only 12. Some polls project an even worse result, only nine ‎seats.‎

Zionist Union MKs admitted Tuesday that faction ‎leader Avi Gabbay is responsible as, despite the public support he received following ‎his election last year, his approval ratings have ‎since been steadily dropping. Tuesday’s polls ‎showed only 7 percent of the public views Gabbay as a ‎suitable candidate for the position of prime ‎minister.‎

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman’s ‎resignation as defense minister earlier this month ‎is largely viewed as a key factor in the decision to ‎call early elections, although it failed to win him ‎the public support on which he was banking.

Lieberman still has a solid voter base and his party may ‎very well again prove the key to another stable ‎right-wing government. However, he will have to ‎fight Habayit Hayehudi for votes, as that party will ‎undoubtedly try to paint him as the man responsible ‎for the government’s inability to see its term out to the end. ‎

Lieberman told Army Radio Tuesday that he was ‎confident his party would increase its power from ‎the current six mandates to “at least nine seats.” ‎Most polls, however, predict Yisrael Beytenu would ‎slide down to five or four seats. ‎

Since Monday, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has ‎boasted that it was his decision not to support the ‎haredi conscription bill—controversial legislation ‎that has threatened the government’s stability ‎multiple times in the past—that triggered the ‎April elections. ‎

Given the troubles in Zionist Union, Lapid is trying ‎to position himself as the only viable alternative ‎to Netanyahu.

But even the most flattering polls say ‎Yesh Atid would increase its power from its ‎current 11 seats to 15 at best—far behind the 30 ‎seats projected for Likud.‎

The question remains whether Lapid, whose party ‎pushes a centrist platform, would be willing to join ‎a Netanyahu-led coalition. ‎

Most political experts agree this would be an ‎uncomfortable alliance for both Netanyahu and Lapid, ‎with some predicting that while the move is unlikely ‎to affect Likud, it would be “political ‎suicide” for Yesh Atid. ‎

On the left, Meretz, the social democratic party, ‎has left no substantial mark on the 20th Knesset. ‎

The party, which held its first primary elections ‎this year, elected Tamar Zandberg to replace ‎longtime head Zehava Galon. It is projected to ‎increase its power in the next election from five to ‎six or possibly seven seats. ‎

The Joint Arab List announced Tuesday that for the next election it will ‎maintain the alliance forged by the Balad, ‎Ra’am-Ta’al and Hadash parties in 2015, despite bitter internal ‎rivalries. ‎

The party, whose members are often lambasted for ‎statements undermining Israel on a wide range of ‎topics, won 13 mandates in 2015. Most polls project ‎this will largely remain the same, and, barring a ‎dramatic event, the party is likely to win 12 seats. ‎

Several surprises in store

The 2019 election campaign also has several ‎surprises in store for all parties, as returning ‎actors and newcomers may end up changing the face of the 21st Knesset.‎

The most intriguing question centers on whether ‎former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (ret.) Benny ‎Gantz will enter politics. ‎

Gantz, who enjoys unusual public consensus, has been ‎aggressively courted by both the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid, ‎but he has yet to confirm whether he will be entering politics at all. ‎

Political analysts agree that having Gantz ‎on the ‎‎ticket would be a boon for any party, and if he decides to run independently as the head of his own party, votes would undoubtedly migrate to him from most secular parties, ‎particularly from Zionist Union and Yesh Atid‎.‎

Tuesday’s polls predicted a Gantz-led party could ‎win as many as 16 mandates, potentially making it ‎the second-largest Knesset faction. ‎

Former Likud MK and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, ‎himself a retired IDF chief of staff, announced ‎Tuesday that he was forming an independent party, ‎which has yet to be named.‎

Since resigning as defense minister in 2016, ‎Ya’alon has been unable to position himself as an ‎electoral heavyweight. Most polls predict that, ‎barring an alliance with one of the bigger parties, ‎he is unlikely to pass the electoral threshold. ‎

Another rising political star is former MK Orly ‎‎Levy-Abekasis, who formally launched her party, ‎‎Gesher (“Bridge”), on Tuesday.‎

Levy-Abekasis, who left Yisrael Beytenu in 2016, was ‎‎one of the party’s top legislators and is considered ‎‎highly popular. She announced her plans to form an ‎‎independent party almost immediately after leaving ‎‎Yisrael Beytenu, saying she plans to champion socio-economic issues. ‎

The party, which remained unnamed until Tuesday, has ‎‎been performing steadily in the polls, which predict ‎‎a five-seat win.‎

Levy-Abekasis’ choice of Gesher as her party’s name ‎‎is a nod to her father, veteran politician David ‎‎Levy, who used the same name for the national ‎‎social movement he formed in 1996. The first Gesher was active until 2003, ‎‎when David Levy retired from politics, and it aligned and ‎eventually merged with ‎Likud.‎ ‎ ‎