The Israeli parliament was in session on Monday to vote on a motion to dissolve itself and clear the way for a snap election, likely to be set for January 22.
At the session, which began at 1400 GMT, MPs were expected to approve a government bill to dissolve the parliament, or Knesset, paving the way for early elections which were called last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I’m asking to hold elections on Tuesday, January 22, 2013,” Netanyahu told the house at the start of the debate.
“In less than 100 days the people of Israel will decide who will lead them in the face of the greatest security challenges which we have known since the founding of the state; who will lead them in the face of the toughest economic crisis the world has known in the past 80 years,” he said.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said that the gravest strategic threat facing his country is a nuclear-armed Iran, an ambition that the Islamic republic denies harbouring.
Israel, the Middle East’s sole, if undeclared, nuclear power, will not rule out military action to prevent Tehran obtaining such arms.
“Anyone who belittles the threat which a nuclear Iran poses to Israel is not worthy of leading Israel for even one day,” Netanyahu told the Knesset.
“Today we have the capabilities to act against Iran and its satellites; capabilities that we did not possess in the past,” he said, without elaborating.
MPs will debate the election bill and vote on it in three readings in a lengthy session expected to run late into the night, said Yariv Levin, chairman of the Knesset’s House Committee.
“We will use an accelerated procedure which will let us vote on the bill in three readings in one day,” he told public radio.
To be adopted, the text must be approved by an absolute majority of 61 in the 120-seat Knesset, a parliamentary spokesman said.
Commentators say the bill is likely to be easily approved.
On approval, the Knesset will be immediately dissolved and an election recess will come into force, marking the official start of a campaign which polls suggest Netanyahu and his rightwing and ultra-Orthodox allies will comfortably win.
A survey published last week by the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper found that Netanyahu and his allies were set to increase their number of seats to 68, while the opposition — comprising centrist, leftwing and Arab parties — would win just 52.
Netanyahu’s existing coalition, which includes the centrist Independence party headed by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, holds 66 seats.
The Israeli leader said his decision to call a snap election was driven by the deadlock among coalition partners over the passage of a budget packed with austerity measures.
But commentators said Netanyahu had called an early vote to capitalise on his current standing in the polls, which show him holding a commanding lead over any potential rivals for the premiership.