Video report by ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine
He was hoping to face the music as a sitting prime minister but now he may find himself without the protection of that high office.
This country’s longest-serving leader looked sullen at Likud’s HQ last night as the exit poll results came in. His party hadn’t won and there was no obvious path to garnering a coalition of 61 seats – a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Benny Gantz, a rather dull and until this year unheard of former IDF chief of staff, had frustrated Mr Netanyahu’s second attempt to secure a fifty term.
Mr Gantz had promised to bring unity. By comparison Mr Netanyahu’s campaign was divisive and called racist.
He tried to deter Israeli-Arabs from voting because they never vote for him.
The tactic backfired. In April’s election the Arab turn-out was 49%. Yesterday it was 61%.
The Arab coalition is the third biggest party in the Knesset, which opens up the possibility of their leader Ayman Odeh being the leader of the opposition.
That would make him the highest ranking Arab in the Knesset ever. It’s an official position that brings with it, among other things, a security detail and the right to meet visiting foreign dignitaries.
Like some other countries we can all think of, democracy in Israel is in something of a rut and the formation of a new government may once gain prove impossible.
Right now Mr Netanyahu’s involvement is unclear, but he has been weakened. A leader used to having an iron grip may find that his future is no longer in his own.