Senior Likud member Gideon Sa'ar submitted an official request for a snap leadership primary to the party's Central Committee Chairman Haim Katz on Sunday morning.
The move comes following a television interview given on Israel's Channel 12 News on Saturday night where Sa'ar described Netanyahu's reaction to his indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust – the premier had called it "an attempted coup" – as "wrong and irresponsible."
In the letter to the Central Committee Chairman, Sa'ar said "This move has the power to prevent Israel's decline into unnecessary third elections, which Prime Minister Netanyahu himself described as letting the system go haywire."
Since a government can still be formed in the current Knesset, Sa'ar said, "there is a chance to do to put an end to the political crisis that has been going on for as long as a year."
The decision on when to hold Likud Central Committee meetings is made in coordination between the party chairman and the central committee chairman. The only exception to this rule is if the purpose of the meeting is to discuss the timing of a leadership race, which comes under the central committee chairman's authority alone.
In his televised interview on Saturday night, Sa'ar initially praised Netanyahu's achievements as the country's prime minister, but then noted he had failed to win the Likud a governing majority twice.
"He had our full support even when he made a mistake like dissolving the Knesset [after the April election], Sa'ar said, adding "I don't think that in a third or fifth election campaign he'll be able to form a government. We're not that far from losing control of the country to our adversaries."