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Successors Line Up As Netanyahu’s Predicaments Worsen
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu makes a point at a political rally. (AFP/Getty Images)

Successors Line Up As Netanyahu’s Predicaments Worsen

Gideon Sa’ar, Yisrael Katz emerging as Bibi’s most likely successors

Speculation among political analysts in Israel is that long-time Likud Party members Gideon Sa’ar and Minister of Transportation and Intelligence Yisrael Katz are the most likely candidates to succeed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when his political career comes to an end.

The general belief is that the PM will be indicted in one or more of the three corruption cases against him. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly set to act by February on the police recommendation to indict, just ahead of decisive national elections on April 9.

In the affair known as “Case 1000,” Netanyahu is suspected of receiving bribes totaling nearly $290,000 from billionaire backers. In “Case 2000,” Netanyahu stands accused of allegedly striking an illicit agreement with a newspaper publisher. Finally, in “Case 4000,” the prime minister is suspected of corruption in relation to telecommunications giant Bezeq and the Israeli Walla! News website.

Dr. Emmanuel Navon, a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and Security, argues that even if Mandelblit gives the go-ahead for indictment proceedings, they could take well over a year to come to fruition. In such an event, Netanyahu would have to step down and a new Likud leader would then be elected.

“Right now, the most likely contenders [to lead the] Likud are Gideon Sa’ar, Yisrael Katz, [Speaker of the Israeli parliament] Yuli Edelstein and probably also [Public Security Minister] Gilad Erdan,” Dr. Navon told The Media Line, qualifying that as things stand today he does not envision any other parties outside of Likud being able to form a coalition government.

“I don’t see why any of the other parties would want to go for another round of elections next year” in the event Netanyahu resigns, Dr. Navon continued. “Once they are given their government portfolios and all their benefits, why should they risk it all on a new election if they can [simply] wait for the Likud to replace its leader?”

Sa’ar, a former Education Minister, left the political arena in 2014 but announced his intention to run in the Likud primaries ahead of this year’s national elections. Meanwhile, Katz, who also serves as a member of the security cabinet, has long been viewed as someone who could potentially replace Netanyahu.

“Netanyahu has been very successful in ‘killing’ prospective successors,” Tamar Hermann, a professor at Israel’s Open University and Director of Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute, asserted to The Media Line. “He did that with Gideon Sa’ar even though Sa’ar is mentioned as a possibility. Yisrael Katz will try to take over. [Ambassador to the United Nations] Danny Danon also sees himself as a successor. But none of them is a real candidate in terms of having the people’s trust and support.”

Prof. Hermann further notes that neither Katz, Sa’ar, nor Danon hold the necessary political clout within the Likud party to concretize their ambitions. For this reason and with the prime minister’s ongoing corruption investigations hanging in the air, it remains unclear who will ultimately replace the premier.

Outside of the Likud, Prof. Hermann points to former IDF chief Benny Gantz as a possible competitor. Gantz is heading the newly formed Hosen L’Yisrael (Israel Resilience) party and has yet to reveal a platform. While his party has fared well in recent polls, Prof. Hermann is skeptical Gantz’s current popularity will lead to concrete political results.

“Is Gantz capable of translating his military experience into political expertise?” She asked. “He is winning the hearts and minds of many Israelis just because we haven’t heard anything bad about him in recent years so it’s by default.”

Netanyahu’s legacy will largely depend on whether he is formally indicted, although his diplomatic and foreign policy achievements, combined with his bolstering of the Israeli economy, would remain intact.

“If Netanyahu is not indicted, he will come out as a great leader that was hunted by his enemies via undemocratic measures,” Prof. Hermann claimed. “If he goes to jail or signs a deal with the Attorney General, his legacy will change but many of his followers would not be convinced that it will outweigh the good things he brought to Israel.”

Similarly, Dr. Navon viewed Netanyahu’s legacy as complex—filled with memorable accomplishments and political toxicity.

“Netanyahu’s legacy is a complicated one: first of all he will be remembered as the longest-serving prime minister, which is an achievement,” Dr. Navon said. “His legacy would be very mixed: diplomatic achievements and economic growth.

“On the other hand, he created such a concentration of power and eliminated any potential contenders to his leadership. When Netanyahu leaves, there will be a huge void that remains to be filled.”

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