Over the past two weeks Likud has lost approximately 15 percent of its former electoral support to other right-wing parties, according to a Haaretz poll.
The poll, commissioned by Haaretz and performed by the survey company Dialogue, indicates Likud would receive 30 seats in the Knesset compared to 36 in a previous survey by the same pollster.
Apparently, all the votes that make up the six-seat difference went to Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and Habayit Hayehudi - all of which could boast a significant increase in constituents.
On the whole, the rightist bloc is still leading over the centrist Kadima and the leftist Labor by some 12 seats. The Pensioners Party managed to garner more support compared to the December 10 poll, bringing it to a total of two seats.
A possible explanation as to why Likud hemorrhaged votes can be found in the controversy surrounding hardliner Likudnik Moshe Feiglin's election to the relatively high 20th spot during the party's primary election last week.
Invoking various technical and legal amendments in the party's charter, Netanyahu managed to bump Feiglin down by more than 15 seats in what commentators described as a bid to prevent Likud from losing votes due to an overly-hawkish public image.
Now it appears that Feiglin's ousting from a Knesset seat has backfired, causing rightist voters to abandon Likud for sectarian and hardliner parties.
But according to the Dialogue survey, which was conducted over the phone and included 475 participants, Likud's decline adds nothing to Kadima's base of support. In fact, Tzipi Livni's party has continued its steady but slow decline of one seat every fortnight. It now holds 26 seats, compared to 27 two weeks ago and 28 last month.
Just as Kadima cannot claim to profit from Likud's misfortune, so Labor cannot boast any achievement at Kadima's expense. If Ehud Barak's party - which is currently Israel's fifth largest - is responsible for Kadima's one-seat loss, then it has probably lost that seat to Meretz, which rose by two seats over the past two weeks and may now command the support of enough voters to give it eight Knesset seats.
The poll - which has a 4.5 percent margin of error - also reveals that most Israelis oppose a massive invasion into the Gaza Strip. Some 46 percent of responders said they were opposed to "a land incursion into Gaza which could end in fatalities for the Israel Defense Forces," as stated in the question. Forty percent of participants said they favored such a move.
However, the poll was performed before Hamas fired dozens of Qassam rockets into Israel yesterday and so the number of people who support an invasion may well have been higher if they were asked today.
Irrespective of this, past experience - including in the Second Lebanon War - shows that popular support for military action wanes rapidly unless they are won quickly, or if they result in too many casualties.
This knowledge, which has not escaped Defense Minister Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, could go a long way in explaining why they and other decision makers have so far refrained from ordering the Israel Defense Forces to enter Gaza.
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