Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies on Wednesday looked close to a return to power in one of the most right-wing coalitions in Israel's history.
Netanyahu's conservative Likud party and its likely far-right allies were on track to command a majority in parliament with some 85% of votes counted after Israel's fifth election in less than four years.
"We have won a huge vote of confidence from the people of Israel," a smiling Netanyahu told cheering supporters at his Likud party election headquarters. "We are on the brink of a very big victory."
The 73-year-old said he would set up a "stable national government."
Initial results showed a surge in support for the ultranationalist Religious Zionism party, whose top candidate is Itamar Ben-Gvir. Projections put Ben-Gvir's far-right party in third place.
Centrist caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid's bloc was projected to come in at a close second.
A final result is expected later this week.
What to know about the vote
Ex-premier Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for corruption, has been looking to secure a political comeback. He was ousted after 12 years in power by a coalition that Lapid helped form last year.
The coalition brought together eight parties across the political spectrum, including parties from the right and left as well as an independent Arab party. The alliance, however, was short-lived.
Analysts expected a tight race for the 120-member Knesset, Israel's parliament.
In Israel, more popular parties end up needing support from multiple smaller factions to secure a majority.
Despite concerns about election fatigue from voters, turnout was up to its highest level since 1999 as of 8 p.m. local time (1800 GMT).
For Israelis, the election came amid months of violence in the occupied West Bank. Security and inflation were top in the minds of voters.
Political divide 'doesn't seem to be solved by elections'
Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at the Israel Democracy Institute, told DW that the tight race was indicative of the divided political landscape in Israel.
"It tells us the Israeli politics is highly polarized, almost equally between two camps," Rahat said, adding that elections in the country now are "for political parties, not for people."
The political divide and repeated fresh elections "tells us that we are in in a situation that doesn't seem to be solved through elections," he added.
rc,rs/nm (AP, AFP, Reuters)