By Maayan Lubell
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would win an election were it held now, an opinion poll showed on Monday, as he weighs his strategy towards Iran's nuclear program and speculation grows that he will seek a renewed public mandate.
The next parliamentary election in Israel is not due until October 2013, but Netanyahu signaled on Sunday he was considering moving up the ballot.
On Saturday, a former Israeli spymaster branded the country's leaders as "messianic", in the strongest criticism yet from a security veteran of threats to launch a pre-emptive war.
But an opinion poll conducted on Sunday night and published in the popular Yedioth Ahronoth daily showed Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party winning 30 of 120 parliamentary seats if a poll were held now, up from the 27 it currently holds.
A slew of commentators, citing cracks in the governing coalition over formulating a new law that could force ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the conscript military, said Netanyahu may opt to set the election date as early as August or September.
Such a result would make him the leader of the largest faction and the likely candidate to form the next government.
According to the poll, Israel's main opposition Kadima party, currently the largest in parliament, would drop from 28 seats to 11. Kadima, a centrist party, recently replaced its leader, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, with ex-defence chief Shaul Mofaz.
The survey showed the Labour Party, widely expected to gain strength from a wave of social protests that swept Israeli cities last summer, taking 18 seats, a steep rise from its current 8, and becoming the second largest faction.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's party Yisrael Beitenu, Netanyahu's biggest coalition partner, would capture 13 seats, down from its current 15, the poll showed. The poll surveyed 500 people and has a margin of error of 4.5 percent.
In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth's website, Ynet, Lieberman described an early election as a done deal. "It's now just a matter of (setting) dates," he said.
Lieberman has been a leading advocate of imposing military service on ultra-Orthodox Jews - most Jewish men and women are subject to the draft at the age of 18 - and requiring Israeli Arabs to perform national service outside the armed forces.
Ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition have said they would fight such a move. The current conscription law expires in August and the government has to decide the issue soon.
Netanyahu has also been under pressure from pro-settler coalition partners and some outspoken Likud party members who have questioned his commitment to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians seek a state.
Netanyahu's government has pledged to evict or raze numerous settlement outposts put up without official sanction, drawing warnings from some political allies that his coalition could collapse as a result.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell, Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Ruth Pitchford)