Ahead of the vote, which was widely seen as a referendum on his six-year tenure as prime minister, the polls showed his rightwing Likud trailing the centre-left Zionist Union by up to four seats.
With a wide array of political actors united under the unofficial slogan "Anyone but Bibi," his opponents smelled victory.
But they were premature in writing him off.
"This amazing achievement is mainly a personal one for Netanyahu," wrote Yossi Verter in an editorial in the left-leaning Haaretz daily, describing the burly 65-year-old leader as "resurrected".
With Likud sliding in the polls, Netanyahu's indomitable survival instinct kicked in, and he embarked on a whirlwind series of interviews with Israeli news outlets.
After beginning his campaign with a series of videos poking fun at the media frenzy over allegations about his and his wife Sara's lifestyle, he transformed himself into a prophet of doom, warning of the dangers which awaited an Israel that voted in his centre-left rival.
BURYING A PALESTINIAN STATE
In a campaign marked by scaremongering, Netanyahu warned that a vote for his rivals would mean a Palestinian capital in annexed east Jerusalem and a halt to settlement construction which would turn the hills surrounding the city into an Islamist haven - "Hamastan."
A skilful and highly polished orator, Netanyahu repeatedly invoked the slogan -- "It's me or them."
In a last-ditch appeal to the far right, he ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state if reelected, effectively reneging on his 2009 endorsement of a two-state solution.
And on election day itself, he raised the alarm about the high turnout among Arab voters.
"The best campaigner of all did it again ... He did it using propaganda and borderline incitement against the free media and a methodical campaign of lies, falsehoods, and fabrications against his rivals, dead and alive," wrote Verter.
And somehow it worked.
"At the moment of truth, when the hand reached for the ballot slips, the people chose Netanyahu once more," he said.
Born on October 21, 1949, Netanyahu grew up in the United States after his father Bentzion, a history professor, was considered so rightwing in the Labour-dominated Israel of the time that he was forced to leave.
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The young Netanyahu did his military service in an elite commando unit, where he was wounded in combat, then went on to attend the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 1976, his elder brother Yoni was killed in a legendary commando raid in Entebbe, Uganda to free passengers aboard an Air France plane hijacked by Palestinians, which affected him deeply.
He plunged into studies of terrorism, writing three books on the subject.
His career took off when he was posted to Israel's Washington embassy, later becoming ambassador to the United Nations.
His emergence on the world stage came in 1990 after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, when he appeared in frequent interviews on CNN television.
When first elected in 1996, Netanyahu was Israel's youngest-ever premier.
If, as almost certain, he forms the next government, he will become the second longest-serving premier after David Ben Gurion, Israel's founding father.
Ever ready with a sound bite in his American-accented English, the burly 65-year-old with his trademark comb-over has not strayed far from the political stage.
Defeated in 1999 by Labour chief Ehud Barak, he stepped down briefly but returned in 2002 to serve under his rightwing successor Ariel Sharon as foreign minister and finance minister.
In late 2005, he took over as Likud leader after Sharon left to found the centrist Kadima, but led the party to a humiliating defeat a year later.
Just months after his election to the premiership for a second time in 2009, Netanyahu gave a landmark speech at Bar Ilan University in which he became the first Likud leader to accept the concept of a Palestinian state.
But he has done little to further it -- and in a series of interviews earlier this week, he made clear it was no longer relevant.
"You can't carry out the things that were laid out in the Bar Ilan speech... when all you have on the other side is terror," he said.
"Any territory which would be handed over would be taken over by radical Islamists."
Netanyahu and his wife Sara have two sons and he has a daughter from a previous marriage.