A 22-year-old Palestinian boarded a bus in Tel Aviv last week, whipped out a knife, and started indiscriminately stabbing fellow passengers, leaving 13 wounded, several seriously. He ran off the bus, and was quickly shot and captured by Israeli police.

During questioning, he told security forces that he carried out the attack because of Israel’s attacks in the Gaza Strip during last summer’s fighting with Hamas, and because of Israel’s actions on a site that is holy to Jews and Muslims.

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He also said he had been motivated by watching Islamist materials that spoke of “reaching paradise.”

The attacker was apparently acting alone, and not affiliated with any terrorist organization, although his rampage was welcomed by Hamas. It is similar to several recent attacks in Jerusalem, most recently the November attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem that left four worshippers and a policeman dead.

Israeli analysts are divided over what the effects of these attacks will be.

“These terrorist attacks will strengthen [current Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent of The Jerusalem Post, told The Media Line. “All of the polls show that Israelis trust Netanyahu with their security more than any other party leader by far, so terrorist attacks play into the hands of Netanyahu.”

Other analysts say that it is still almost two months to the election and the situation can change dramatically during that time.

“Two months is an eternity in Israel and this was a relatively minor incident,” said Yehuda Ben Meir of the INSS think tank at Tel Aviv. “However, if Iran or Hizbullah launches a major retaliation against Israel that could become a major issue.”

Iran and Hizbullah has blamed Israel for an attack last week in Syria that killed at least six Hizbullah fighters and an Iranian general. Both Iran and Hizbullah have threatened revenge.

This election comes just two years after the last election, and Netanyahu has already been the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history after David Ben-Gurion. There is some anger against Netanyahu for calling the elections, which many Israelis see as a waste of time and money.

It is also still not clear whether the main issue of the election will be security or economics. Netanyahu has a clear advantage over his primary rival, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, who is running together with former justice minister Tzipi Livni and has agreed to rotate the prime ministership.

Polls show the Zionist Camp Party of Herzog and Livni winning 23-25 seats if the election were held today, followed by Netanyahu’s Likud with 20-22 seats. However, when it comes to putting together a majority coalition with a minimum of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Likud seems likely to be able to do that more easily.

If Likud ran with the right-wing Jewish Home party headed by Naftali Bennnett, polls show the combination would win 40 seats, well on their way to forming a coalition. However, that seems unlikely given personal tensions between Netanyahu and Bennett, who was once his chief of staff.

Netanyahu is seen as stronger on security, while Herzog and Livni score better on social and economic issues, including the astronomic cost of housing in Israel.

“Likud wants the main issue to be security and the Zionist Camp wants it to be economic,” Shmuel Sandler, a professor of politics at Bar-Ilan University, told The Media Line. “The problem of the Zionist Camp is that their partners, the Palestinians, don’t seem to be cooperating.”

Almost every Israeli election since the 1970s has been about security and the central question of whether Israel should relinquish land in exchange for a peace deal with the Palestinians. Only one election – the most recent one, in 2013 really focused on social issues, following massive street protests in 2011 against the cost of living. Two of the top positions in the Zionist Camp are held by young social activists who led those protests.

In that election, a new party called Yesh Atid, led by former TV personality Yair Lapid, won an impressive 19 seats and Lapid became finance minister amid promises to lower prices on many consumer goods and to build thousands of affordable houses. Two years later, none of that has happened, and Lapid is expected to lose much of his power after the next election. A new party, Kulanu, headed by a former Likud cabinet minister, , is making similar promises.

Israeli analysts caution that the situation is fluid and that Israelis often wait until the last minute to make up their minds.

—   The Media Line

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