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By contrast, political newcomer Yesh Atid (There is a Future), led by former TV host Yair Lapid, took 19 seats, making it the surprise second-largest party in the next parliament.
In what could become the enduring image of the election, Netanyahu and Lapid, each in his own campaign headquarters, gave simultaneous victory speeches - appearing side-by-side on split screens as equal players in the political arena.
Even Israel Hayom, a free newspaper that is widely seen as a mouthpiece for the Netanyahu government, did not try to hide the pain. “Lapid’s surprise, Likud’s disappointment,” it said.
With the benefit of hindsight, the writing had been on the wall long before the shock of voting day, when the well-oiled Likud electoral machine failed to generate the same sort of voter excitement seen amongst supporters of newer blocs.
The campaign rallies failed to draw big crowds. The party did not even publish a political manifesto, relying on Netanyahu’s image as a strongman to carry the day.
But while Netanyahu was telling voters that tackling Iran was his main priority, many Israelis wanted to hear about more down-to-earth issues such as taxes and the cost of living.
“All our lives we voted Likud but today we voted for Lapid because we want a different coalition,” said Ahuva Heled, 55, a retired teacher voting on Tuesday in the town of Even Yehuda, north of Tel Aviv. “We want to enable young people to obtain housing and live more peaceful and comfortable lives.”
Such sentiments finally filtered through to Netanyahu’s inner circle on Tuesday morning. The prime minister embarked on a frenzied round of visits to polling stations, then ordered an emergency meeting of top staff.