Six weeks into the 2019 elections, nine to go, and the drama is already starting to spike. Two big deadlines are coming up: one is February 21, the last day for the parties to submit their candidates lists to the central election committee, which is also the last chance for announcing new political alliances or joint lists which could challenge the Likud’s current dominant position. The other important deadline is actually still unknown, but the common assumption is that it can happen any day now: unless something dramatic changes, the attorney general’s decision to indict Netanyahu is underway. Despite massive pressure from the prime minister to postpone the decision after the elections, it appears that Avichai Mandelblit’s announcement that he will be indicting Netanyahu, subject to a hearing, is a matter of when, and not if.

The Mandelblit effect, which threatens to take over the whole political agenda and reduce the election to being entirely focused on the question of Netanyahu and his alleged crimes or innocence is one of two dramatic factors that are going to define and design this campaign. The other one is the Gantz effect: the entrance of the former IDF chief of staff into the arena. In the next few weeks, while Netanyahu is preparing to fight and publicly delegitimize the attorney general’s decision, Gantz will be making his first political steps aiming to build a party that will be strong enough to defeat the sitting prime minister. The final outcome of each one of the developments is impossible to predict, but the confluence of factors could pose a real threat to Netanyahu’s ten-year rule, and is very worrying to the prime minister.

Gantz launched his campaign last week, after months of anticipation and build-up, with a first political alliance, joining forces with another former IDF chief of staff,Moshe Ya’alon. Many people hoped that the Gantz debut would fail and turn into a farce, but his speech, and especially the public reaction to it, exceeded all expectations. Overnight, a star was born, with a range of opinion polls predicting a spike in his party’s popularity, reaching over 20 seats.  Many television news anchors announced that “the election campaign has reopened”. The majority of the Israeli public has been longing for a viable and visible alternative to Netanyahu, and Gantz appears to be the perfect remedy.

However, despite the impressive numbers that Hosen Leyisrael is producing, Gantz still doesn’t pose a clear threat to the Likud itself or the dominance of the right wing bloc more broadly, making the ex-general’s road to the top almost impossible at the moment. In order to continue the trend and keep moving up, Gantz is seeking additional connections, especially those that can move votes from the right. All eyes are now on another former IDF chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, who is being heavily courted by Gantz and is considered a right-wing voter magnet. Askhenazi is taking his time, perhaps even enjoying the flirting, and has one big condition before he jumps into the water: a significant movement that can bring a change, meaning- an alliance between Gantz and Yair Lapid.

Gantz’s meteoric breakthrough has left most of his rivals in a big crisis. Lapid, who was dreaming of leading the anti-Bibi camp all the way into the prime minister’s office, is considered the biggest loser of the current situation. Gantz shares the same centrist electorate and has opened a wide gap over him, lending credence to the notion that the Hosen Leyisrael leader is the one that should be leading the bloc.

Lapid and Gantz are holding close and intimate discussions, but there is a huge ego barrier stalling significant progress: the so far unsolvable question of whether Gantz or Lapid will be number one. Meanwhile, another possible connection could be with Orly Levy-Abekasis, who is running with her own Gesher party and hovering just slightly above the electoral threshold. Levy might be an easier deal to close, but any agreement with her will necessarily rule out further connections. When Levy quit the Yisrael Beiteinu party in the middle of the last Knesset session she was sanctioned and she cannot, by law, run with any of the existing parties.

Gantz and Lapid are both winking mainly to the right, but they are also gaining support and appealing to voters from the left. Meanwhile, the left-wing parties are fighting for their lives. Ironically, those who were supposed to be the basis for the big bloc that would replace Netanyahu are now the least desired goods on the market. Neither Gantz nor Lapid are interested in any contact with Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni or Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay, who are both in gloomy situations in the polls. In 2015, the Zionist Union (Labor and Hatnuah) had 24 seats. -Today, Livni isn’t even close to the electoral threshold. Labor, which ruled Israel for its first three decades, has sunk down to a historic low of five-to-six seats. Meretz, on the far-left, has failed to absorbed the Labor dropout and is also with only five seats. The declining numbers are prompting calls for Livni and Gabbay to reunite and run a joint list with Meretz, an historic idea that has not come to fruition.

Ironically, for Netanyahu, the Gantz effect is not necessarily bad; it establishes a real political rival that threatens him, which could be helpful for as the prime minister attempts to consolidate the Likud electoral base and secure its position as the largest party. It has also prompted Netanyahu to renew a long lasting dream of forming an “Israeli Republican Party” by bringing into the Likud smaller parties who otherwise might not pass the threshold. Many forces behind the scenes will be working very hard until the February 21 deadline, trying to form a puzzle from a very scattered map that will maximize the votes and prevent them from going down to waste., In politics, never say never: creative solutions might emerge.