In a new ploy to prevent Yamina leader Naftali Bennett from potentially forming a government with the so-called “change bloc,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to sow division in his right-wing rival’s party, according to a report Thursday.
Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked has been reported to be far more cool than Bennett about the prospect of forming a government that would include center-left parties.
According to Channel 12, Netanyahu’s Likud is now focusing its pressure campaign on her.
The unsourced report pointed to a pair of tweets from right-wing journalists who are vocal supporters of Netanyahu, but who have had past ties with Bennett and Shaked.
“Hello Ayelet Shaked. Come to Likud and in the future you’ll lead the right. Don’t be Bennett’s sucker,” Shimon Riklin tweeted.
He added: “You already paid the price once because of [Bennett’s] nonsense. Jump out of his car before the crash.”
Riklin did not elaborate on the “price” he was referring to, but appeared to be alluding to the failure of Bennett and Shaked’s then-political faction — New Right — to clear the minimum electoral threshold in the April 2019 elections, after they broke off from the Jewish Home party. The two then entered the Knesset with Yamina in the three elections held since.
Meanwhile, Yinon Magal wrote on Twitter: “If Ayelet Shaked announces that under no circumstances will she join a left-wing government, she’ll achieve great things on the right. If you follow Bennett, you’ll finish your political career. The choice is easy.”
Magal, who previously hosted a television show with Riklin on Channel 20, briefly served as a Jewish Home MK in 2015 when Bennett led the party, before resigning over a sexual harassment scandal.
While peeling off Shaked from Bennett could potentially deal a fatal blow to the prospects of the Yamina leader and the “change bloc” opposed to Netanyahu assembling a coalition if Netanyahu fails to do so, it is unlikely to put the Likud leader any closer to a majority.
Shaked and Bennett are both believed to have wanted to join Likud in the past, but Netanyahu and his wife Sara reportedly blocked their entry to the party, due to their personal distaste for them. Both Bennett and Shaked worked for the Likud chief while he served as opposition leader from 2006 to 2008, but left after reported clashes with the family.
The Channel 12 report came a day after Walla news said Shaked met secretly with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, a longtime Netanyahu loyalist whom the premier reportedly sees as a possible successor.
The meeting allegedly took place a week before the March 23 elections.
Unnamed sources familiar with the sit-down who were quoted in the report said the meeting dealt with security and legal issues and not politics. Both Shaked and Cohen, who is believed to be weighing a political career after his term as head of the spy agency ends later this year, refused to comment.
There were no further details on what the two discussed, but the report noted that Shaked served as justice minister in 2015-2019, when Cohen was national security adviser before he took the reins at the Mossad in 2016. Shaked was also a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the previous Knesset.
Following the report, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel demanded clarifications from Cohen.
“MK Shaked does not have a security position that justifies this meeting,” it wrote in a letter to him, saying it “may lead to heavy suspicions” that he was dealing in political matters while serving as Mossad chief.
With Netanyahu’s chances of putting together a ruling majority appearing to dwindle, the premier and Likud have increasingly lashed out at Bennett, as they seek to deny his rivals have any path to a majority.
In a primetime address Wednesday, Bennett rejected Netanyahu’s long-shot bid to hold direct elections for prime minister without a fresh vote for parliament. In a dueling speech in which Netanyahu fired at Bennett and a theoretical unity government led by the Yamina leader, the premier claimed the proposal was the best solution to Israel’s two-year-long political impasse.
Bennett also said that while he prefers a right-wing government led by Netanyahu, if the prime minister fails in forming one, he will try to form a government of national unity.