Israeli elections: What you need to know

A key guide to the main candidates.

There was new excitement surrounding the April 9 Israeli elections with incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing a possibly historic victory while staring down his most serious contender in many years.

Netanyahu, who previously served a term as prime minister between 1996 and 1999, will overtake the state's founder David Ben Gurion if he wins a record fifth term in office. But the man who has always modeled himself as the leading security and defense candidate is facing stiff competition from a military veteran -- with other senior army figures as allies.

Benny Gantz served as the chief of the Israeli Defense Forces from 2011 to 2015, and in his Blue and White Alliance he is also running with two other former military figures: the former defense minister Moshe Yaalon and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

With about 97% of the votes counted on Wednesday, Netanyahu and Gantz appeared roughly even, although the incumbent Bibi had a much clearer path to forming a ruling coalition. Should results hold, it'll be an enormous win for Netanyahu.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU

Age: 69

Party: Likud Party

Prime minister since 2009, having previously served a term in 1996 to 1999. Netanyahu is facing indictment charges and may stand trial for corruption.

It's unclear if he will be able to shield himself from the trial if he wins re-election. Netanyahu is poised to win a historic fifth term -- breaking the record for Israel's longest serving prime minister, currently held by the state's founder, David Ben Gurion.

BENNY GANTZ

Age: 59

Party: Israel Resilience Party (Blue and White alliance)

Former chief of the Israeli military 2011-2015, including during two major military campaigns in the Gaza Strip. Gantz has run on a campaign aimed at "cleaning up" the politics in Israel, pushing social policies and, if elected, will serve two-and-a-half years before switching with Yair Lapid.

The Blue and White alliance is formed of Gantz's Israel Resilience Party and is joined by the Yesh Atid and Telem parties.

YAIR LAPID

Yair Lapid leads Yesh Atid. He is a prominent politician and former television anchor who served as finance minister under the last Netanyahu administration.

If Gantz wins the election, Lapid is expected to take over as prime minister after Gantz's first two-and-a-half years are up, under an agreement between party leaders.

NAFTALI BENNETT & AYELET SHAKED

Two of Israel's most prominent right-wing politicians, who lead the newly formed "New Right" party. They are more right-wing than Netanyahu's Likud Party, advocate secular policies and are strongly in favor of settlement expansion.

Both Bennett and Shaked have gained notoriety for some of their more controversial comments on the conflict with the Palestinians and are seen by many as divisive political figures.

LABOR

The successor to Israel's founding party, it has dropped in prominence in recent years. Labor is a social democratic party and a strong supporter of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and may join a centrist coalition.

THE ZIONIST PARTIES

Jewish Home, once the party of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, has joined into an alliance with other right wing part called Jewish Power.

JP is controversial due to its connections with a banned organization called the Kahanist movement -- a proscribed extremist group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.

THE ARAB BLOC

The grouping of Israeli-Arab parties has split recently -- but their corresponding demographic in the electorate could still have a deciding effect on the election if they turn out in large enough numbers.

Arab citizens of Israel, ethnically the same as the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, make up around 20% of the Israeli population. Many parties in what was known as the Arab Joint List say their biggest priority is to unseat Netanyahu, but some have said they would not support Gantz unless he blocks the controversial "Nation State Law" -- recent legislation that entrenches Jewish influence and control in Israel over other minorities.

ABC News' Jordana Miller contributed to this report.

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