With more than four million votes counted as of 9 a.m., Likud had snagged 26.27% of the vote, or 35 seats in the 120-seat legislature - the party's best result since the 2003 election (when it won 38 seats under Ariel Sharon), and its best under Netanyahu.
Earlier that night, Gantz had claimed victory.
"I'm voting because I've had enough of Netanyahu".
Israel's 21 percent Arab minority saw its parties lose seats.
- Blue and White was formed ahead of the elections by Benny Gantz, a former armed forces chief of staff who is a newcomer to politics. "Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people - and the Jewish people only", he said.
Almost 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs.
Cavusoglu's comments were in an apparent reference to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent pledge to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank if he wins the election.
But it is the image he has cultivated as the sole protector of Israel, the man who can make Israelis feel there is a distance between those who seek it harm, that is the real reason he won on Tuesday.
In the final days of the campaign Netanyahu was everywhere, giving interviews to all major Israeli media and constantly posting on social media.
Ofer Zalzberg from the International Crisis Group think-tank said Netanyahu understood the right-wing had an inbuilt advantage in Israel and so could stick with his base.
But a third exit poll predicted the bloc would be tied with centre-left parties allied to Mr Gantz. These elections have a clear victor and a clear loser.More news: DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Is Leaving Wednesday. Will Her Replacement Be Worse?
Mr Netanyahu highlighted his close relationship with US President Donald Trump, who delighted Israelis and angered Palestinians by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017 and moving the American Embassy to the holy city last May.
Cavusoglu also called on the United States to be an "honest broker" in the Mideast dispute, saying a USA peace plan for the region must be fair and objective toward Palestinians.
"The people of Israel saw this, that he was not a throwback to the past but had an orientation for the future. Nonetheless, Lieberman's convincing victory showed that he was doing the right thing and took the right course", he said.
Two of Netanyahu's potential allies, hawkish former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and economic-centric Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, have yet to formally confirm they would sit with Netanyahu and could emerge as wild cards. During his presidency Netanyahu faced possible indictment in three graft cases, CNBC reports, and has denied wrongdoing in all three.
Netanyahu has consistently rejected the allegations, labelling them a left-wing witch hunt.
"They have chosen an overwhelmingly right-wing, xenophobic and anti-Palestinian parliament to represent them", she said. Some analysts predict he may try to pass a law granting himself immunity, as a sitting leader, from trial.
"After the election he can play the democracy card".
His policies include a strong position against Palestinian terror.
And Trump was quick to declare that his upcoming Middle East peace plan has "a better chance now that Bibi has won". Few if any details have emerged, but Trump says there will be "some pretty good action" on the plan soon.
Israel occupies the West Bank and east Jerusalem, while more than 600,000 Israeli settlers live there in communities considered illegal under global law.
TRT World's Assed Baig explores the reason that Palestinians in Israel boycotted the vote. We'll have more on the elections and the significance of the results after headlines with Palestinian attorney Diana Buttu and Israeli journalist and activist Haggai Mattar.