Mr. Netanyahu had been unable to form a government after elections in April and in September, he noted.
“I haven’t heard a single person who thinks that after a third, or fourth, or fifth, or sixth election, that Prime Minister Netanyahu will succeed in forming a government,” Mr. Saar said.
Were Mr. Netanyahu to stay at the helm of Likud, Mr. Saar warned, either “this insane crisis,” with Israel politically paralyzed, would continue, or the center-left would gain power.
“There is only one way that will allow us to save the country and to extricate it from this crisis and to save the Likud’s rule — a primary to avert an election,” he said.
Mr. Saar, 52, was the strongest vote-getter in Likud primaries in 2008 and 2012, but he took a hiatus in 2014. He re-entered public life in 2017, and ran in the Likud primary election in February, finishing third. He said Saturday night that he believed he would “easily” form a government where Mr. Netanyahu had been unable to.
Only days ago, Mr. Netanyahu maintained rock-solid party support. But with Mr. Saar assailing him publicly, the cracks spread almost instantly. Haim Katz, a lawmaker who is chairman of the Likud Central Committee, endorsed Mr. Saar’s demand for an expedited primary election.
Mr. Gantz, in a speech in Tel Aviv, pointed to Mr. Netanyahu’s long history of exploiting his opponents’ misfortunes, and of fanning the flames of popular anger among his right-wing base, to argue that the prime minister had no business trying to put his prosecutors on trial in the court of public opinion.