Netanyahu's Main Challenger Widens Lead in Israeli Opinion Polls

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks to supporters of his Likud party as he campaigns in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv yesterday. Israelis will vote in a parliamentary election on March 17, choosing among party lists of candidates to serve in the 120-seat Knesset, March 11, 2015 Baz Ratner/Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a last-minute media blitz on Thursday to counter what appears to be a rising tide of support for his main opponent in next week's election, the centrist Zionist Union.

The latest opinion polls show momentum shifting to Zionist Union after weeks of running neck-and-neck with Netanyahu's Likud, and Netanyahu again warned voters who have abandoned his party for like-minded challengers that without their votes, he could lose.

Forecast to win up to 24 seats to Likud's 21 in the 120-member parliament, Zionist Union hopes the gap will be wide enough to persuade Israel's president to ask its leader, Labour party chief Isaac Herzog, rather than Netanyahu, to try to form a coalition government after Tuesday's balloting.

"If the gap between the Likud and Labour continues to grow, a week from now Herzog and Livni will become the prime ministers of Israel in rotation, with the backing of the Arab parties," Netanyahu said in an interview published in The Jerusalem Post.

Under his Zionist Union alliance with centrist Tzipi Livni, Herzog would serve as Israel's leader for two years and then hand over to the country's most prominent woman politician for the remainder of their government's slated four-year term.

In the right-leaning Jerusalem Post and the Israel Hayom free sheet, an ardent supporter, Netanyahu focused his message on Israelis who want him as prime minister but plan to vote for his potential partners in a Likud-led coalition.

Gilad Erdan, a Likud cabinet minister and Netanyahu confidant, said he expected the prime minister to give interviews to other Israeli media outlets in the next few days as part of a bid to bring "supporters of Likud and its ideological path back to their (rightful) home".

In Israel Hayom, Netanyahu complained that "right-wingers mistakenly thought that I would be elected in any case, and therefore thought about supporting other parties".

He told the Jerusalem Post that a Zionist Union-led administration "will cause such a monumental shift in policy that it is a danger, and anyone who wants to stop it has to vote Likud to narrow the gap".

Likud's weakening in the polls appeared to indicate that Netanyahu's contentious speech on March 3 to the U.S. Congress against a potential nuclear deal with Iran had little impact on Israeli voters long accustomed to such warnings from a leader now in his third term.

Netanyahu's opponents, while acknowledging the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran, have made Israel's high cost of living a focal point of their campaigns and cautioned against diplomatic isolation over his tough policies towards the Palestinians.

In the two interviews on Thursday, Netanyahu again made security his top talking point.

Herzog and Livni, he said in the Jerusalem Post, would "completely prostrate themselves to any pressure" to trade land for peace with the Palestinians and to accept an Iranian deal.

"Our security is at great risk because there is a real danger that we could lose this election," Netanyahu said.