Israelis voted in a fiercely fought election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is battling for political survival after more than a decade in power.
Final opinion polls predicted that most Israelis will vote for the party led by Netanyahu's main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, but the polls put Netanyahu and his Likud party in a stronger position to assemble a governing coalition.
In Israel, winning the most seats does not necessarily guarantee that the candidate can build a coalition. In 2015, during the country's last election, exit polls proved to be inaccurate, predicting a tie when Netanyahu ended up winning by six seats.
Netanyahu is fighting for his fifth term in office from under a cloud of corruption allegations.
Polls closed at 7am NZT. Shortly after the polls closed, both leading candidates said they had prevailed in the election.
In Netanyahu's initial remarks after voting ended, he said, "The right-wing bloc led by the Likud won a clear victory. I thank the citizens of Israel for their trust. I will begin forming a right-wing government with our natural partners tonight."
Gantz and his running mate Yair Lapid were just as emphatic. They issued a statement saying: "We won! The Israeli public has had their say! Thank you to the thousands of activists and over a million voters. These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser. Netanyahu promised 40 seats and lost. The President can see the picture and should call on the winner to form the next government. There is no other option!"
The initial exit polls from the Israeli election show a very tight outcome.
In Israel's fragmented political landscape, with about 40 separate parties fielding candidates, what matters most is who can garner enough support in the 120-seat Parliament, or Knesset, to form a majority of at least 61 seats.
Israel's Channel 11 showed Benny Gantz's Blue and White Party leading Netanyahu's Likud by one seat, with 37 compared to the incumbent's 36. It predicted Netanyahu would be in a better position to form a government, giving the right-wing bloc a 64 seat majority Knesset.
Israel's Channel 12 said Gantz's party would win 37 seats in the Knesset and Netanyahu's would take 33 seats. That exit poll indicated that left-wing and right-wing parties would split the Knesset equally, with each side winning 60 seats.
Channel 13's exit poll said Gantz' party and Netanyahu's would each win 36 seats. But again, the exit poll put Netanyahu in a stronger position to form a coalition, with the right wing bloc looking to capture a 66-seat majority.
For many Israelis the election boiled down to one question: Should Netanyahu stay or go?
"Let's make this happen," said Gantz, as he voted in his hometown of Rosh Haayin, near Tel Aviv.
In a campaign waged largely over social media, Netanyahu has kept the race tight despite facing corruption allegations. Israel's attorney-general announced in February that he planned to indict the Prime Minister in three criminal cases, pending a hearing in which Netanyahu can defend himself.
If he wins a new term and remains in office past July, Netanyahu will become Israel's longest-serving prime minister, surpassing the 13 years and 127 days of Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion.
Trying to prevent that is Gantz, a 59-year-old who is making his political debut. In a highly polarised political scene, Gantz has been running on a message of unity, stressing that he is neither left nor right. Netanyahu has branded him a "leftist" from the outset.
Gantz's message may have resonated with Israelis who are weary of Netanyahu's leadership and concerned about questions of impropriety, but the challenger has stumbled in television interviews and been criticised as wooden, especially in comparison to Netanyahu's polished performances.
"To replace or not to replace, that is the question," veteran Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea wrote in his column in the popular daily Yedioth Ahronoth. "That question, which has become a cliche, is completely accurate; these elections are a referendum on Netanyahu."
Netanyahu has tried to drive home the message that he's capable of leading Israel as no one else can. He takes credit for winning US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and of Israeli sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights. He also highlights his close relationship with President Donald Trump and his effort to boost ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"He has convinced people that he is irreplaceable and that no one else comes even near to him," said Gideon Rahat, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. "That is the secret to his power."
Netanyahu has also long sold himself to the Israeli electorate on the basis of his strong record on security. But his rival party this time contains three former military chiefs of staff.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu have ramped up their campaigns as they try to win over the undecided. For Gantz, that means telling supporters he's on the cusp of victory. Netanyahu's strategy has been to whip up fears that he might lose.
"We are one foot away from victory," Gantz told the crowd gathered in Tel Aviv for his last campaign rally yesterday. "We need two more seats, just a few tens of thousands of votes more. Nothing is more important than joining us."
Netanyahu made his final pleas in Jerusalem's market, to chants of his nickname "Bibi" alongside a few heckles.
"It's not in our pocket," he warned. "Some of our people are complacent and believe the media, which is trying to put them to sleep."
In a move that was widely read as a bid to win more votes from the right, Netanyahu last week promised to begin to apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank, considered illegal by most of the international community.
Until then questions related to the peace process with the Palestinians, or lack of it, had been largely absent from the campaign. The West Bank is home to around 450,000 settlers who live among more than 2.5 million Palestinians.
In 2015 he was also criticised by many Israelis for his last-minute warning on election day that Arabs were "flocking to the polls." A healthy turnout among Arab Israelis, who make up 20 per cent of the population, has the potential to block Netanyahu from being able to form a coalition.
This time, he's used a similar strategy from the outset, persistently warning that the only way that Gantz can win is through a coalition with Arab-majority parties. Though they have traditionally abstained from backing any candidate, they could also play a significant role if they choose to recommend Gantz.