Ex-minister Sa’ar reportedly mulling bid to lead Likud

After taking break from politics in October, former interior minister said to be considering challenging Netanyahu

Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90/File)
Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90/File)

After only a two-month hiatus from politics, former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar is reportedly considering running against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the Likud party leadership next month, party sources said Thursday.

Sa’ar surprised many when he announced he would leave politics in September, saying he wanted to “take a break” for personal reasons, having recently remarried.

But on Thursday, Likud sources told Channel 10 news that Sa’ar was weighing a comeback to try to oust Netanyahu.

Confident that Sa’ar can defeat Netanyahu as Likud leader in a vote set for January 6, pro-Sa’ar Likud activists are urging the former minister to officially register his candidacy before the December 14 deadline, according to the report.

There was no word from Sa’ar, who had been regarded as a favorite in the battle to eventually succeed Netanyahu before he chose to leave politics. He officially left his post in mid-October.

In an interview following his announcement to leave the Knesset, Sa’ar said that his working relationship with Netanyahu, previously close, collapsed during last spring’s process of electing a successor to president Shimon Peres, when the prime minister sought to thwart Likud MK, now president, Reuven Rivlin’s route to the post.

Danny Danon, Likud Central Committee chairman, who is also running in the leadership race, hinted last month that former ministers Sa’ar and Moshe Kahlon both resigned because of Netanyahu.

Kahlon, a popular former Likud minister, left the party before the last elections in 2013, and announced this week he would form a new party to run in the next elections on March 17.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Sunday's cabinet meeting. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90).
Gideon Sa’ar, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

A Likud leader and prime minister in the 1990s, Netanyahu has headed the party largely unthreatened since 2005, when Ariel Sharon left to form the Kadima party.

Sa’ar, 47, started off as an assistant to the attorney general before being appointed by Netanyahu as cabinet secretary toward the end of Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister in 1999. He was first elected to Knesset in 2003, and later served as the party chairman as well as the deputy speaker of the Knesset. Sa’ar served as education minister in the previous government.

After he announced that he would leave politics, Sa’ar’s performance as a minister was lauded by fellow members of the Likud party, who urged him to return to the Knesset soon.

“I have great respect for the work and contribution of Sa’ar to the Likud and to the State of Israel,” coalition chairman Yariv Levin said. “I wish him great success and am convinced that he will be successful wherever he goes, and that he will return to the ranks of the Likud leadership.”

Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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