Likud MK Avi Dichter on Saturday night walked back his vow to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the party’s leadership, saying he would only run for the post after Netanyahu steps down.

Speaking at a cultural event in the city of Modiin on Saturday, the former head of the Shin Bet security agency had said Netanyahu could no longer fulfill his duties as prime minister while being a suspect in two ongoing criminal investigations.

“Whoever tells you the prime minister can act without disruption and distraction while being investigated, is not telling the truth. This matter is very problematic for someone running the country,” Dichter said.

“I am here to lead and will undoubtedly run for Likud leadership and the premiership,” he said, citing his experience and personality as qualifying factors, while adding that “I’m already preparing for the next primaries, even if they are against Netanyahu.”

In the past, Dichter had said he would not run for the party leadership in the coming election cycle since Netanyahu has already been chosen as the Likud candidate.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Likud MK Avi Dichter (right), former head of the Shin Bet, in 2016 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Likud MK Avi Dichter (right), former head of the Shin Bet, in 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

And on Saturday evening Dichter stressed that Netanyahu will be the party’s candidate for prime minister in the next elections and he will only compete for the Likud leadership when Netanyahu decides to hand over the reins.

Despite the criminal investigations against Netanyahu, most members of the ruling coalition have defended the prime minister from calls from the opposition to resign. Dichter’s comments earlier Saturday notably broke with this precedent.

Netanyahu ally and coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) rebuked Dichter for those comments, saying that in light of Netanyahu’s legal woes “this is the time for unity, not for subversion.”

“Dichter should concentrate on being elected to the Knesset and not on undermining the prime minister,” Bitan said, while adding that “the nation supports” Netanyahu and that “Likud needs his electoral successes,” Channel 10 reported.

The prime minister is being investigated in two separate cases. The first, known as “Case 1000,” is looking into claims that he and his family received luxury gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from businessmen, among them Israeli Hollywood movie producer Arnon Milchan.

A second probe, given the police moniker of “Case 2000,” deals with allegations that Netanyahu and the publisher of the mass daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes, negotiated an illicit quid pro quo deal that would have seen the prime minister pass legislation to hamper rival daily Israel Hayom in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, and has accused the “leftist, Bolshevik” media of pressing the attorney general to indict him.