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ExclusiveBut Ohana comes 2nd in Likud poll after ex-Mossad boss Cohen

Once a key member of Netanyahu’s inner circle, Amir Ohana on outside looking in

Opposition chair’s silence as Likud MK tears into former minister indicates that longtime loyalist who became one of party’s most popular figures has fallen from favor

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana in Tel Aviv, on December 1, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana in Tel Aviv, on December 1, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

After entering the Knesset in 2015, Likud MK Amir Ohana quickly became one of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most loyal backers. He passionately defended the party leader against the various corruption allegations and was rewarded with a series of senior ministerial posts, despite his relatively low ranking on the Likud list.

But Ohana’s time in Netanyahu’s inner circle appears to be drawing to a close, according to a Thursday report from The Times of Israel’s sister site Zman Yisrael.

At a heated party meeting on Monday during which MK David Bitan tore into fellow faction members for failing to show up for key Knesset votes, Ohana requested permission to speak, Zman Yisrael reported.

Almost immediately after he began, though, Bitan cut him off and castigated the former minister for being among those who have been missing from the plenum recently.

“Who are you anyway?” Zman Yisrael quoted Bitan as having shouted at Ohana. “Who are you to decide anything here? You ran after Netanyahu and he gave you [some senior] positions, so now you [think you get to] decide things here? For a few extra votes in the [Likud] primaries, you chose not to show up for a vote?”

Ohana reportedly sat speechless in shock and looked over at Netanyahu, apparently hoping that the party leader would back him up.

But the opposition chairman remained silent, according to the report, which explained that Netanyahu is livid with Ohana over his failure to denounce MK Yuli Edelstein when the latter announced earlier this month that he would challenge Netanyahu for the Likud leadership.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, seen during a visit at the COVID-19 vaccination center in Zarzir, northern Israel, on February 9, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

In the past, Ohana had bitterly censured those in the party who sought to challenge Netanyahu. But he was silent following Edelstein’s announcement, with only backbencher MK Shlomo Karhi speaking out against Edelstein, a former health minister and Knesset speaker.

Netanyahu associates took note of Ohana’s silence and responded by sending a number of messages in Likud WhatsApp groups highlighting the former minister’s “failures,” in addition to claiming that he is seeking to join forces with Edelstein and Nir Barkat — another Likud MK seen as a possible party leader and Netanyahu challenger.

The attacks on Ohana climaxed at the Monday Likud faction meeting, where such an intense assault by Bitan would not have taken place without a nod from Netanyahu, Zman Yisrael reported.

Netanyahu, who has also failed to appear for recent Knesset votes, went further, claiming that “only one Knesset member here is conducting himself properly.” He pointed to David Amsalem, indicating who might be picking up the mantle as the Likud MK closest to the chairman.

“I will not give up until you are sanctioned,” Bitan then shouted at Ohana, irate over the former minister’s no-show for a vote on expanding access to medical marijuana that the opposition lost.

Those looking at Netanyahu saw him hold back a smile, Zman reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media before entering the Jerusalem District Court, flanked by (left to right) Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, MK Nir Barkat, Finance Minister Israel Katz and minister without portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi (video screenshot)

According to Channel 12, though, the reason behind Netanyahu’s decision to turn on Ohana had less to do with the latter’s failure to condemn Edelstein and more to do with an internal poll among Likud supporters indicating that the former public security minister is actually gaining in popularity.

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in an interview with Channel 12 broadcast on June 10, 2021 (Screencapture)

The poll asked respondents to rank MKs other than Netanyahu for Likud’s next Knesset list. At the top was former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who Netanyahu has indicated he views as a potential heir. In second place was Ohana, followed by MKs Amsalem, Yariv Levin and Galit Distel Atbaryan.

Distel Atbaryan named Ohana as the most suitable candidate to lead the party in the future, in a closed-door conversation earlier this week, the network said.

Bitan’s haranguing of Ohana was part of the latest attempt by Netanyahu to take out a fellow faction member seen as becoming too popular relative to the party leader, according to Channel 12, which cited unnamed sources.

Likud MKs David Bitan (L) and David Amsalem attend a Knesset committee meeting on September 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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