Top Netanyahu Aide to Quit Over Strategy

Strategic advisor quits over resignation from finance min., press conference on candidacy for Likud leadership.

Cracks are already starting to show in Benjamin Netanyahu's campaign for the Likud Party leadership: His strategic adviser of the past two-and-a-half years, Shaya Segal, resigned this week because he opposes Netanyahu's strategy.

Specifically, Segal objected to Netanyahu's resignation from the Finance Ministry and to the press conference that he gave for Likud Party Central Committee members last week, at which he announced his candidacy. Both of these steps, as well as others that Segal opposes, were recommended by some of Netanyahu's other advisers.

Netanyahu tried to persuade Segal not to resign, but to no avail. Segal said in response: "Netanyahu and I remain in constant contact. The nature of this contact is a matter of concern solely to him and me."

Segal's resignation shocked many of Netanyahu's closest associates. The two have worked together ever since Netanyahu entered the Finance Ministry, and these associates consider him responsible in no small degree for Netanyahu's political success in this role. Previously, Segal worked for many years for Ariel Sharon, and the two remain friendly.

But Segal is not the only Netanyahu aide with reservations about their candidate's behavior over the last two weeks. Several were upset over the press conference, which was slammed in the media. They said that Netanyahu "shot himself in the foot" with this event, and that inviting the central committee members was a particularly grave error. As a result, they are now expressing doubts about his chances of becoming prime minister.

Some of the Knesset members who joined Netanyahu on the dais at this conference said that they were also embarrassed by their candidate's performance. One even said that this event, and the speech that Netanyahu gave at it, made him wonder whether he had been too hasty in backing the former finance minister. And several MKs have expressed reservations about Netanyahu's efforts to move up the Likud leadership primary, which would shorten the government's tenure and lead to early elections.

"Why do we need to kick ourselves out of power just because it's urgent to Bibi?" demanded one.

These supporters blame Yehiel Leiter, who was Netanyahu's chief of staff in the treasury, for what they call the extreme right-wing line that Netanyahu has adopted. Leiter, a settler and an expert in raising money overseas for right-wing causes, enthusiastically supported Netanyahu's resignation from the Finance Ministry.