The following is a timeline of key events in the crisis that threatens to engulf the Sharon premiership.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 30 - NETANYAHU DECLARES CANDIDACY
Netanyahu flanked by a varied group of supporters, including former cabinet minister Natan Sharansky, author Eyal Meged, Ze'ev Jabotinsky - grandson of the founder of Revisionist Zionism, and a number of anti-disengagement Likud "rebels," among them lawmakers Naomi Blumenthal, Michael Gorolovsky, and David Levy.
"I have learned the lessons. I am ready," Netanyahu said at a news conference in Tel Aviv.
UPSHOT: The move could set in motion an eventual split in the party, with Sharon bolting the Likud and starting a splinter faction of his own.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20 - PM RETURNS FROM ADDRESSING UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Sharon refrains from explicitly pledging to remain in Likud if primaries are moved up.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26 - LIKUD CENTRAL COMMITTEE SETS PRIMARIES DATE
OPTIONS: Originally, Sharon's term as party chief was to have lasted another year. The 3,000 party Central Committee members may vote to hold primaries as early as November, or as late as April.
COMPROMISE: Fence-straddling Likud cabinet ministers Livnat, Hanegbi and Shalom have proposed a February date for the primaries. Both the Sharon and Netanyahu camps have rejected the proposal, but they may yield before a vote is taken.
UPSHOT: Primaries in November would represent a significant defeat for Sharon. This would constitute the first time that any party has tried to oust a serving prime minister as its chairman.
Primaries in April could give Sharon the breathing room he needs to mount a successful primaries challenge against Netanyahu, who enjoys powerful support within Likud bodies but unpopular with the voting public at large.
MID-OCTOBER - SHARON EXPECTED TO DECIDE WHETHER TO BOLT LIKUD
OPTIONS: He could run in the primaries against Netanyahu, as he has pledged.
Or he may mount a court challenge to the decision, at least as a delaying tactic.
Or he could announce that he is leaving the Likud, with the presumption that he might found a new party, perhaps including present Likud cabinet ministers Tzipi Livni, Gideon Ezra, Meir Sheetrit, and others.
Or, in the much more unlikely choice, the prime minister could announce that he is leaving public life.
LATE OCTOBER - KNESSET MAY MOVE FOR EARLY ELECTIONS
Early Likud primaries may well prompt Labor to leave the ruling coalition, which would cause the Knesset to dissolve itself soonn after its winter session opens late in October.
LATE NOVEMBER - LIKUD PRIMARIES
UPSHOT: If Sharon stays in the race, he is likely to be defeated by Netanyahu, and then leave the party.
If Sharon bolts before the primaries, Netanyahu would likely contend within the party with rivals Uzi Landau to his immediate right, and Shaul Mofaz to his relative left. He might also need to molify far-right gadfly Moshe Feiglin. He would likely emerge victorious, but with a party drained of much of its electoral drawing-power.
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