For the first time in more than ten years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be facing a challenge from within his own Likud party.
In a simple tweet, former aide and senior Cabinet minister Gideon Saar announced he would be challenging Netanyahu in his upcoming re-election effort.
The bid comes as Netanyahu looks to fight off a corruption investigation, which could result in potential indictment charges.
From the Associated Press:
Netanyahu failed in two elections this year to capture a parliamentary majority, and the possibility of a criminal indictment in the coming weeks has hindered his efforts to head a coalition government. Seeking to solidify his status, the premier last week floated the prospect of a snap internal leadership primary in which he expected Likud to endorse him. But he quickly backed down after a two-word Twitter response from Saar: “I’m ready.”
It was a risky maneuver in a party that fiercely values loyalty and has had only had four leaders in its 70-plus-year history. Saar followed it up with a more detailed tweet clarifying that he was not out to topple the prime minister, as Netanyahu has long claimed. Still, Saar left no doubt about his ultimate objective.
“No one is denying the prime minister’s role as chairman of the Likud,” Saar wrote on Twitter. “When there is a race for leadership of the party — as the prime minister himself initiated a few days ago — I will run.”
For Saar, it was a move long in the making. A former lawyer and journalist, he was first brought into politics 20 years ago by Netanyahu, who made him his Cabinet secretary during his first term in office.
Saar then established himself as a staunch nationalist who opposed Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and resisted the prospect of a Palestinian state. He quickly rose in the Likud ranks, twice finishing first in internal elections for its parliamentary list and enjoying successful stints as education minister and interior minister after Netanyahu returned to power in 2009.
After a brief hiatus from the political sphere, Saar returned this year and has successfully changed Netanyahu on various political issues, which included an effort to legislate “immunity for the prime minister.”
The timing of Netanyahu’s corruption investigation has created the perfect storm for Saar’s push as a rival political party—the Blue and White party—reportedly refuses to help Netanyahu.
Here’s even more from the Associated Press:
Despite his hard-line positions, Saar enjoys good relations across the political spectrum and is perceived as a potentially more comfortable partner for a unity government with the rival Blue and White party, which emerged as the largest party in last month’s election.
But neither it nor the Likud control a parliamentary majority. A coalition government between the two parties appears to be the best way out of the deadlock, but Blue and White’s leader, former military chief Benny Gantz, refuses to sit with Netanyahu because of his expected indictment on corruption charges.
Under Israeli law, if neither Netanyahu nor Gantz can form a coalition, a majority of lawmakers could theoretically choose an alternative as prime minister. Saar is widely seen as the politician most capable of winning such support.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been the Israeli Prime Minister since 2009, and a change in Israel’s leadership could have major implications for the nation and its relations with other Middle Eastern countries.