JERUSALEM — With a simple tweet, Gideon Saar did what no Israeli politician from the ruling conservative party has done in more than a decade — openly challenge its chief, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The brazen move against the long-serving Israeli leader has solidly positioned the 52-year-old Saar as the Likud party’s leading candidate to replace Netanyahu, who is fighting for his survival amid a pending corruption indictment and post-election political paralysis.
A former aide and senior Cabinet minister under Netanyahu, Saar has long been considered a rising star in Likud and one of the lone independent voices in a party that has, in general, blindly followed its leader.
But that has begun to change. Netanyahu failed in two elections this year to capture a parliamentary majority, and the possibility of a criminal indictment in the coming weeks has hindered his efforts to head a coalition government. Seeking to solidify his status, the premier last week floated the prospect of a snap internal leadership primary in which he expected Likud to endorse him. But he quickly backed down after a two-word Twitter response from Saar: “I’m ready.”