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World Likud chairman Danny Danon widened the field of candidates in the August 14 Likud leadership race to three on Tuesday when he threw his hat into the ring, challenging incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu and Likud activist Moshe Feiglin.
A former chairman of World Betar and aide to former MK Uzi Landau, Danon was 25th on the Likud's list for the Knesset in the last election.
Danon's views are just as hawkish as Feiglin's but he opposes the religious elements of Feiglin's views.
After MK Silvan Shalom quit the race last week, MKs who support Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post they hoped "a straw candidate" would enter the race, so he would not have to face Feiglin one-on-one.
But instead of getting a "straw candidate," Netanyahu received a challenge from one of his most bitter critics in the party. Danon intends to use the race to force Netanyahu to answer questions about why he supported the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and what his emissaries offered former Syrian president Hafez Assad.
Danon said he intended to challenge Netanyahu and Feiglin to an "ideological debate," but he acknowledged that it was unlikely Netanyahu would agree. When Danon won an election for World Likud chairman last year Netanyahu split the organization rather than recognize Danon's victory, protesting the legal procedures that forced his ally, MK Yuval Steinitz, to quit the race at the last minute.
"My running is not intended to serve Bibi, but it will help the Likud, because now more people will take the race seriously and vote," Danon said. "I am running on the ideas that Uzi Landau ran on last time - on behalf of the Right flank of the party that defeated the referendum on disengagement and needed someone to support."
But Landau distanced himself from his former aide, saying he supports Netanyahu and did not understand why Danon was running.
"I think [Danon] is making a big mistake," Landau said. "He shouldn't be running at a time when the Likud has to show unity in the face of the challenges ahead of us. I would like Bibi to speak differently [more right-wing] too, but he is still the best candidate for prime minister in the national camp."
While Netanyahu's associates said they were indifferent to Danon's candidacy, MKs who support him said they wished that neither Danon nor Feiglin would run.
"Feiglin and Danon are hurting the Likud with their ridiculous candidacies, but democratically, there is no way to prevent them from running," Steinitz said. "Since neither has a chance, they should be supporting Netanyahu's leadership and allowing us to save the millions that the primary will cost for the real race against Olmert and Barak."
Feiglin issued a statement accusing Netanyahu of putting up Danon as a straw candidate. He said the Likud required an honest leader who would not employ political tricks.
Netanyahu's office denied any connection to Danon. In upcoming days, it will unveil a campaign under the slogan "Israel votes/chooses [same word in Hebrew] to succeed." The campaign is intended to quell the notion that the Likud thrives on fear mongering, and will present positive messages about what the Likud under Netanyahu's leadership would do to improve the country.