Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday night declared that his Likud party had won a "huge victory" after exit polls showed it winning the most seats in the next Knesset by a comfortable margin.
Exit polls showed that Likud pulled in 31-32 seats in the 120-member parliament after the country went to the polls for the fourth time in two years , with main rival the centrist Yesh Atid trailing far behind on 16 or 18.
"Citizens of Israel - thank you!" Netanyahu wrote in Hebrew on Twitter. "You have bestowed a huge victory on the right-wing and the Likud under my leadership. The Likud is larger than the next party by a massive margin."
In a follow-up tweet, he wrote: "It is obvious that a clear majority of Israelis are right-wing and they want a strong and stable right-wing government that will protect the economy of Israel, the security of Israel and the land of Israel. This is what we will do. We love you!"
Netanyahu's right-wing bloc was predicted to have won 52-54 seats, leaving him short of the 61 he needs to form a stable government, but with two of the three exit polls showing former ally Naftali Bennett's right-wing Yamina party likely securing enough seats to give him the majority he needs.
The third exit poll, however, shows that even with Yamina's seats, Netanyahu does not have enough to break through the 60-seat mark.
With the anti-Netanyahu bloc comprising diverse political elements such as the predominantly Arab Joint List and the right-wing Gideon Saar, it seems unlikely that it would be able to form a majority government either - a fact that could plunge Israel into its fifth election cycle since April 2019.
Bennett has repeatedly said that he would not sit in a government led by Yesh Atid head Lapid. But with Netanyahu in need of his party's support, the former defense minister will be expected to exact a high price in terms of ministerial positions and other powerful appointments.
Indeed, when Netanyahu came calling on Tuesday night, Bennett told him that he would wait for the final results of the elections, but assured the prime minister that "the good of Israel's citizens" was of paramount importance.
Netanyahu's current ally, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, also thanked his supporters Tuesday night as the exit polls put his Blue & White party at a surprising 7-8 seats after a campaign in which it was widely speculated that it would struggle to pass the electoral threshold.
"I would like to thank the hundreds of thousands of voters who demonstrated their confidence in the civil and responsible way of Blue & White, as well as all my partners on this journey," Gantz said in a statement released by his office.
"Starting tomorrow, I'll do my best to unite the pro-change [anti-Netanyahu] bloc. And if we are forced to face a fifth round of elections, I will vigilantly protect our democracy, rule of law and security. Because Israel comes first," he said.