Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly planning to hold a snap election as early as March of next year, a full eight months before the next scheduled election in November 2019.
Doing so would have presumably allowed Netanyahu to play on favorable public opinion. Despite facing several charges of corruption, recent surveys suggest Netanyahu and his Likud party would easily sweep to victory if elections were held today.
But then, sources close to the prime minister revealed, Netanyahu found out about a plot to oust him from power, even if Likud won at the ballot box.
According to reports that have been the talk of Israel for the past several days, Gideon Sa'ar, a former cabinet minister and a rising star within Likud, schemed with President Reuvin Rivlin (also a Likud member) to have a Likud lawmaker other than Netanyahu, and possibly someone from a different party, tasked with forming the next government, regardless of the final vote tally.
It is the president, whose role is otherwise ceremonial, that decides following an election which MK will be the next prime minister, should he or she successfully cobble together a viable ruling coalition. Typically, the head of the largest Knesset party is chosen for that honor, but it doesn't have to be that way. Following the 2009 legislative election, Netanyahu's Likud was only the second largest Knesset faction with 27 seats to Kadima's 28. Nevertheless, then-President Shimon Peres tasked Netanyahu with forming the next government, given that he had the best chance to successfully do so.
Netanyahu now believes that Rivlin will do something similar, not because another MK has a better chance to form the next government, but because voices are rising, even within Likud, to curb what is perceived as the current prime minister's tightening grip on power. Should the final tally in the next election be close enough, Rivlin could choose the head of another large party to be the next prime minister. But, he could also choose a different MK from Likud, despite Netanyahu being the internally-elected head of the party.
And that's where Sa'ar comes in. For years already, he has been touted as a future candidate for prime minister. Were Rivlin to make the surprise move of naming him to head the next government, it is possible that only Netanyahu's close circle would protest.
Of course, both Rivlin and Sa'ar have vehemently denied that such a plot exists. Rivlin accused Netanyahu of suffering from "paranoia," and Sa'ar said the prime minister had "crossed a red line" by flinging allegations that echoed those of an irrationally anxious despot.
PHOTO: Netanyahu and Gideon Sa'ar sitting together in the Knesset back when they were on friendlier terms. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)