Benjamin Netanyahu, the incumbent prime minister who also served from 1996-99, is widely expected to serve a third term as prime minister.
“Bibi,” who heads the center-right Likud party, is known for his hawkish security views and consistent warnings about the Iranian nuclear threat. He is running on a joint ticket with Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home), headed by his former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
But Mr. Lieberman’s indictment for breach of trust and fraud in December, together with a rightward shift in Israeli public opinion, may have hurt Mr. Netanyahu. Polls indicate that the Likud-Beitenu ticket, originally expected to win as many as 45 Knesset seats, will instead garner only 34 to 35 seats. They also show the prime minister losing seats to right-wing rising star Naftali Bennett, who opposes a Palestinian state.
The loss of votes to more right-wing parties comes despite the fact that Likud itself has shifted to the right, with hardliners replacing moderates. Most notable may be Danny Danon, a vocal opponent of withdrawing from the West Bank, who jumped from No. 24 in the party to No. 5 in Likud’s November primaries. Mr. Danon, who recently published Israel: The Will to Prevail, argues for strong Israeli nationalism – even if it angers Israel’s top ally and key benefactor, the United States.