Longtime Netanyahu Ally Emerges As His Top Challenger
By Staff, Agencies
For years, Gideon Saar was one of Zionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most loyal and vocal supporters, serving as ‘Israeli’ Cabinet secretary and government minister.
Now Saar, armed with extraordinary political savvy and a searing grudge against his former boss, could prove to be Netanyahu’s greatest challenge.
After breaking away from the Likud Party to form his own faction, Saar is running against Netanyahu in March elections and has emerged as the long-serving premier’s top rival.
The challenge caps the stunning decline of the Saar-Netanyahu relationship, pitting a cunning political mind against his former mentor in a deeply personal battle drenched in past grievances.
A secular resident of Tel Aviv with a celebrity news anchor wife, Saar, 54, is a hardliner long seen as a heir to the Likud Party leadership.
After unsuccessfully challenging Netanyahu in a leadership race and then being denied a government position as retribution, Saar last month broke out on his own. He said his aim was to topple Netanyahu for turning the Likud into a tool for personal survival at a time when he is on trial on corruption charges.
Saar’s chances of becoming prime minister in the next elections are far from certain and polling forecasts his New Hope party coming in second place after Likud. But his entry into the race reconfigures the playing field and could complicate Netanyahu’s task of forming a coalition government, perhaps sidelining Netanyahu after more than a decade at the helm.
"If there’s someone who can beat Netanyahu it is Gideon Saar," said Sharren Haskel, a former Likud lawmaker who quit the party to join Saar.
"He is the only one who can stand up against Netanyahu because of his ideology, his experience and his capabilities."