Netanayhu's only hope of political survival and possible avoidance of jail time depends on his working the political magic he is famed for.
That may prove a tall order. To pass the 61-seat threshold, he must persuade Avigdor Lieberman and his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party to support him.
Netanyahu and Lieberman, who is a settler, are normally ideological allies. But these are not normal times. Netanyahu had to restage the election this week after Lieberman, sensing the prime minister's weakness, refused in April to sit alongside religious parties in a Netanyahu-led government.
Netanyahu might try to lure the fickle Lieberman back with an irresistible offer, such as the two of them rotating the prime ministership.
But Lieberman risks huge public opprobrium if, after putting the country through a deeply unpopular re-run election, he now does what he refused on principle to do five months ago.
Lieberman has nearly doubled his party's seats to nine, by insisting that he is the champion of the secular Israeli public.
Most importantly for Lieberman, he finds himself once again in the role of kingmaker. It is almost certain he will shape the character of the next government. And whoever he anoints as prime minister will be indebted to him.
The deadlock that blocked the formation of a government in April still stands. Israel faces the likelihood of weeks of frantic horse-trading and even the possibility of a third election.
Nonetheless, from the perspective of Palestinians whether those under occupation or those living in Israel as third-class citizens the next Israeli government is going to be a hardline right one.
On paper, Gantz is best placed to form a government of what is preposterously labelled the "centre-left". But given that its backbone will comprise Blue and White, led by a bevy of hawkish generals, and Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, it would, in practice, be nearly as right wing as Netanyahu's.
Gantz even accused Netanyahu of stealing his idea in announcing last week that he would annex large parts of the West Bank.
The difficulty is that such a coalition would depend on the support of the 13 Joint List legislators representing Israel's large Palestinian minority. That is something Lieberman has rejected out of hand, calling the idea "absurd" early on Wednesday as results were filtering in. Gantz appears only a little more accommodating.
The solution could be a national unity government comprising much of the right: Gantz's Blue and White teamed up with Likud and Lieberman. Both Gantz and Lieberman indicated that was their preferred choice on Wednesday.
The question then would be whether Netanyahu can worm his way into such a government, or whether Gantz demands his ousting as a price for Likud's inclusion.
Netanyahu's hand in such circumstances would not be strong, especially if he is immersed in a protracted legal battle on corruption charges. There are already rumblings of an uprising in Likud to depose him.
One interesting outcome of a unity government is that it could provoke a constitutional crisis by making the Joint List, the third-largest party, the official opposition. That is the same Joint List described by Netanyahu as a "dangerous anti-Zionist" party.