Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich is advancing the next race for chairman of the party because she is afraid of facing off against former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, a source close to him said Monday.

According to party bylaws, the next Labor race must be held by March of next year. But Channel 2 reported that Yacimovich wants to advance the race to no later than December in order to avoid facing off against the former lieutenant- general, whose legally mandated post-army cooling-off period ends in February.

“He is calm, but she is panicking,” a source close to Ashkenazi said. “He has never said he wants to enter politics, join Labor, or run for anything.”

The source said that one possibility for Ashkenazi is to run in another Labor election that could be held ahead of the next general election. Party bylaws say that a race for the party’s candidate for prime minister could be held before a general election.

Ashkenazi, who was abroad Monday, serves as chairman of the oil-drilling company Shemen. Waiting to enter politics for another two years could enable Ashkenazi to profit greatly from his business endeavors, which would help his political career.

But Labor leadership contender MK Eitan Cabel warned Ashkenazi on Monday that “there is no make-up test.”

Two former Labor chairmen added that Ashkenazi would be taking a great risk if that was his strategy, because the party’s bylaws give the current Labor leader a lot of power in the party’s institutions.

Ashkenazi has not yet taken any action to build a base inside Labor that could help him get elected. But he could rely on activists loyal to two of his personal friends who are very powerful in Labor: MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini.

It is also possible that candidates who lose an election to Yacimovich this year would help Ashkenazi unseat the chairwoman.

MKs Isaac Herzog and Erel Margalit, who intend to run against Yacimovich, dismissed such a possibility.

A Labor official said that contrary to reports, there are no rules in Labor or laws in the country that would prevent Ashkenazi from running for Labor leader because it is not a contest for the Knesset.

Yacimovich’s office declined to respond.

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