The rivals are now locked in limbo, though former military chief Gantz struck a more optimistic tone, telling his Blue and White Party supporters it appeared Israel’s longest-serving leader had been defeated.
Gantz said contacts with other parties to build his “broad unity government” had already started.
“I intend to talk to everybody, starting tonight,” he said.
Netanyahu meanwhile, was hoarse as he addressed his Likud Party supporters, neither claiming victory nor conceding defeat.
“Israel needs a strong, stable, Zionist government committed to Israel as a national state for the Jewish people,” he said.
Both candidates said they were still waiting for official results.
What happens next?
Netanyahu, who has ruled the country for a decade, will now try to secure a majority for his party as he faces a battle to keep his job amid continuing corruption allegations — which he denies. Either party will have to secure the support of smaller parties to form a coalition in the 120-seat Parliament.
Final certified results will take a few days, as ballot boxes are checked and votes come in from Israelis overseas. And, if results are as tight as expected, then it may still be unclear just who will end up forming a successful coalition government.
Officially, it’s up to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to decide who is tasked with forming the next government — and he said Tuesday he was eager to avoid a third vote.
It will be weeks before the identity of Israel’s next prime minister, and the make-up of its next government, is certain.