JERUSALEM - Members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party are voting on Thursday on the political future of their leader.
At a Likud Party rally in Ashkelon on Wednesday, Netanyahu was whisked off stage to a bomb shelter when terrorists in Gaza launched a rocket at the city.
The Israel Defense Forces said it was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. In a statement, the IDF said fighter jets and attack helicopters had struck a number of Hamas targets.
It’s not the first time Netanyahu was rushed off stage due to a rocket attack. The same thing happened during a campaign rally in Ashdod a week before the September 17 general elections.
When Netanyahu returned to the stage on Wednesday he said Hamas didn’t want him to win. He also said the terrorist who had fired the rocket in the earlier attack “is no longer with us,” in reference to the targeted killing of Islamic Jihad leader Bahaa Abu al-Ata. He said whoever fired the rocket in the current attack “should gather his belongings.”
Netanyahu’s sole opponent is Gideon Sa’ar. At the launch of his campaign 10 days ago, Sa’ar said the “political reality” had created the need for him to challenge Netanyahu.
“I know I will be able to form a government led by Likud; that I will be able to save the nationalist camp. That I will be able to unite the people of Israel,” Sa’ar said then.
Likud lawmaker Sharren Haskel, recently said why she is supporting Sa’ar.
“Because Israel has been in a political turmoil for the past two elections, unfortunately we weren't able to form a government. I do believe that Gideon Sa'ar is the one that will be able to actually form it,” Haskel said.
Israelis have been through two national elections this year and both ended with no party able to form a coalition government.
This is the first time in 14 years that there’s been a serious challenger for the Likud Party leadership. But analysts say Sa’ar is not likely to win.
"I don't think that Gideon Saar has high chances of defeating Benjamin Netanyahu, and to be honest I'm not sure that Sa'ar himself is looking for defeating Netanyahu,” said Dr. Ofer Kenig, research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute.
“I think his main object is to put himself in a position of the next in line after Netanyahu will retire in the coming months or years,” Kenig said.
More than 115,000 Likud party members are eligible to vote across the country. But stormy weather may lead to a low turnout. Results will be in on Friday. Whoever wins will lead Likud into the March 2, 2020 general elections.