The following is a list of politicians gunning for Israel's top position.
Throwing his support behind Israel's assault of Gaza, the head of the right-wing Likud party has maintained a narrow lead in opinion polls, which forecast he will become prime minister again, after having held the post from 1996 to 1999. Educated in the United States, Netanyahu, now 59, was once a highly decorated commando. As finance minister under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from 2003, Netanyahu pursued economic reforms credited by many for economic growth. He wants to shift the focus of land-for-peace talks with Palestinians to economic issues.
Foreign minister and leader of the ruling, centrist Kadima party, Livni is a close second in polls. The most powerful woman in Israel since Prime Minister Golda Meir in the 1970s, Livni has threatened more military action in the Gaza Strip if a fragile ceasefire that went into effect on Jan. 18 fails to hold. A former corporate lawyer, Livni, 50, is Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians and an ex-Mossad agent. Her failure to form a new coalition government after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Kadima resigned in September in a corruption scandal forced the coming election.
As defense minister and leader of the center-left Labor party, Kadima's main coalition ally, Barak's management of the Gaza offensive has won wide public praise in Israel but, according to opinion polls, has not significantly boosted Labor's fortunes. A much-decorated commando, top general and prime minister from 1999-2001, Barak is 66. His premiership ended in an unsuccessful attempt to achieve peace with Syria, and the start of a Palestinian uprising.
Born in Moldova in the former Soviet Union, Lieberman immigrated to Israel in 1978. After serving as director-general of the prime minister's office from 1996 to 1997 during Netanyahu's tenure, Lieberman founded the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu (Our Home is Israel) party in 1999, attracting support from Russian-speaking voters. Lieberman, 50, advocates swapping land where many of Israel's 1.5 million Arab citizens live for West Bank Jewish settlements in a peace deal with Palestinians.