Internal Strife in Likud Ahead of Primaries

YERUSHALAYIM -
Former Israeli Minister of Education Gideon Saar. (Miriam Alster /Flash90)

Whatever the threat from Benny Gantz and the center-left, the Likud on Sunday appeared to be embroiled in internal wrangles that might prove as much of a threat to its election prospects than anything on the outside.

With the party primaries looming this week, a years-long rift between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and former Likud minister Gideon Saar broke into the open again.

Saar was targeted in the first edition of the Likud’s new webcast on Sunday night, less than two days before the party primary.

“More than two or three people in the Likud came to me,” Mr. Netanyahu related, “and said ‘Gideon came to me and said look, this is what I’m planning. After the elections, they won’t appoint Netanyahu to form the government, because he’s in a [pre-indictment] hearing, so the responsibility has to go to someone else in the Likud, and I ask for your support.”

“I didn’t make this up,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “I don’t think this trick will work…It’s not the will of the voters. We’ll see in the primaries whether the will of the voters will prevail.”

A source close to Mr. Netanyahu was quoted by The Jerusalem Post saying the prime minister is working to ensure Saar does not come in first place in the primaries.

In response, Saar repeated his denial of the accusations against him, writing on Twitter on Sunday night:

“Unfortunately, two days before the primaries, the prime minister chose to try and recycle the false plot that he heard for the first time a few months ago. The goal is transparent: an attempt to hurt me in the primaries. Likud members are wise and know very well that the words are baseless.”

Saar reentered politics after an extended timeout after early elections were called.

Earlier, Mr. Netanyahu gave his endorsement to two candidates: Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and the premier’s former chief of staff David Sharan, a suspect in Case 3000, the so-called “submarines affair.”

Beyond that, he did not publish a list of his preferred candidates.

“My recommendations list for the primary includes all current Likud MKs,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “They are all worthy… I trust Likud members that they will choose the most appropriate people out of this excellent selection.”

The Likud denied reports that Mr. Netanyahu had in fact signaled his favorites for the top 10 on the party list: Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Science Minister Ofir Akunis, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, former and current coalition chairs David Bitan and David Amsalem, and recent Kulanu defector Immigration Minister Yoav Galant.