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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu will be toppled immediately from the Likud chairmanship if he doesn't win the March 28 election, sources close to the Likud's ministers said on Saturday night.
Netanyahu expressed satisfaction over the weekend that three freshman MKs, Moshe Kahlon, Gilad Erdan and Gideon Sa'ar were elected on Thursday to complete the top five on the Likud's Knesset list after Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. He took credit for working on behalf of the young MKs.
But Netanyahu made enemies by not working on behalf of the three Likud ministers, Education Minister Limor Livnat, Health Minister Dan Naveh and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz. The ministers said that by forcing them to resign ahead of the vote, Netanyahu sabotaged their chances of getting elected to top slots on the list.
Instead Naveh, who was expected to be third or fourth on the list will only be eighth; Livnat was only advanced to the top 10 because the tenth slot was reserved for a woman; and Katz lost his image as a key player in the Likud central committee when he fell to 12th on the list.
The ministers said in closed conversations that they were outraged at Netanyahu, who had told them he would work on their behalf but didn't. They said that Netanyahu tried to destroy the political careers of potential rivals as he did in 1996 when he refused to appoint Ariel Sharon to the cabinet and gave Benny Begin the lowly science ministry.
"Bibi will have to watch his back from now on or he is liable to find a knife in it," a source close to one of the ministers said. "This is war. He wanted a faction of yes-men because he knows that he will lose the election and he is afraid of getting toppled."
The resignations of Livnat, Naveh and Katz, which were submitted on Thursday, take effect on Sunday afternoon. Shalom submitted his resignation on Friday and it will take effect on Monday.
Several former Likud rebels who were not elected to realistic slots on the Likud list also expressed disappointment with the vote. MK Ayoub Kara, who is 39th on the list, said he would try to be advanced to the 23rd slot on the list, which is reserved for a minority. MK Ehud Yatom, who is 33rd on the list, announced on Thursday night that after his poor showing in the vote he intended to resign from politics. He said that Likud central committee members took revenge against MKs like himself who opposed the policies of Sharon when he headed the Likud.
The retirement of Yatom, whose rank in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) was the equivalent of major-general, would leave the Likud without any Knesset candidates whose military rank is higher than Netanyahu, who was a captain in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit.
Likud officials said that serious efforts would be made in upcoming days to bring in a new candidate near the top of the list who was a general in the IDF.
Netanyahu's next goals are to work on the Likud's charter and on strategies for defeating Kadima in the election. One strategy will be to differentiate between Sharon and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the eyes of the public so that Likud voters who had left for Kadima because of Sharon would return to the party.