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(photo credit: AP [file])
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu unleashed a fierce attack on his main competition in the next general election, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, on Tuesday, blaming the Second Lebanon War on Barak's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon.
Netanyahu disposed of his main competition in the Likud, MK Silvan Shalom, when Shalom announced on Monday that he would not seek the Likud leadership. Just two hours after the Likud central committee set an August 14 date for the Likud primary on Tuesday night, Netanyahu already shifted his attention to Barak.
"The Barak government's irresponsible withdrawal from Lebanon brought Hizbullah to the fence, paved the way for Nasrallah and caused the problems in Lebanon in 2006," Netanyahu said in a half-hour speech to a crowd of 650 people at an event at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds that was cosponsored by the Likud to mark the first anniversary of the war.
Netanyahu targeted Barak's security credentials, calling him "a reckless amateur." Attacking Barak's tenure as prime minister, Netanyahu said: "The Barak government convinced Iran that it can ensnare us in their spider web, that we could be defeated. That's why we need to return to the sane diplomatic policies of the Likud."
Other Likud MKs also attacked Barak at the event. Faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar said, "Barak harmed Israel's deterrence by fleeing Lebanon and laid the groundwork for the kidnappings." MK Limor Livnat also said Barak caused the war.
Labor officials close to Barak responded that by attacking the Labor leader, Netanyahu was "broadcasting that he is under pressure." Prior to the Lebanon War anniversary event, the Likud central committee convened in a building next door at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. Shalom's decision to drop out of the race caused the central committee members to lose interest in the meeting. Less than 300 out of some 3,000 members attended the event, barely filling half of the smoke-filled hall.
Shalom boycotted the event and Netanyahu spoke for only five minutes.
The decision to hold the primary on August 14 passed nearly unanimously. Netanyahu had planned on holding the race in September but advanced it after Shalom dropped out.
The only remaining candidate against Netanyahu, Likud activist Moshe Feiglin, gave a 20-minute speech at the event, in which he attacked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Supreme Court.
"Our decision [in the primary] will be about who will beat Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad and about who will save the country," Feiglin said. "Only a leader with faith can beat Nasrallah. He beat Olmert even though he didn't have his army because he had faith, and that was enough to beat a leader with no God."