Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has turned down the prime minister's request to join his new party, opting to remain in the Likud and throw his hat into the party's leadership race.
"In recent weeks I have said more than once that I'll stay in the Likud. I decided to stay in the Likud and I plan on running in its primaries," Mofaz said at a press conference held at his Tel Aviv office at the Ministry of Defense.
With the statement, the defense minister disengaged from his political patron, Ariel Sharon, who picked him as defense minister despite the fact Mofaz was not a part of the Likud list for the 16th Knesset.
"I think that, these days, the Likud needs a leader who can combine security experience, statesmanship, and social issues," Mofaz told journalists. "I represent these aspects and I intend on running for the Likud leadership, and winning," he added.
Knesset Member Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Mofaz's statement and called him to offer his congratulations. "You made a responsible and intelligent move," Netanyahu told Mofaz.
Mofaz attempted to explain why he delayed announcing his decision to remain in the Likud, saying: "This morning the prime minister asked me to join his government and to continue as defense minister. When the prime minister turns to you, you have to weigh it seriously."
Earlier, a source in the Prime Minister's Office said the defense minister sent a message to Sharon saying that he would stay in the Likud for the time being. The source said that this would not be "the final world" on the matter.
Moran Zelikovich contributed to this report