Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, was forced yesterday (Thursday) to defend his decision to cease hostilities in Gaza against a public and political backlash in which he was at one point dubbed a "loser" by his own troops.
Both Israel and Hamas claimed victory after a truce brokered by Egypt and the United States brought an end to the week-long bombardment over the Gaza border. But Netanyahu faced allegations that he had boosted the popularity of Hamas without achieving his military goals.
"Deterrence was not restored," said Shaul Mofaz, head of the centre-Right Kadima party, rival to Netanyahu's Likud. "There was no resolution. Hamas achieved exactly what it wanted. There is no security for the residents of southern Israel and of central Israel."
However, Netanyahu's handling of the operation was praised by security experts who said it had achieved the limited objectives that the prime minister had set down. "There was no decisive victory here," said Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser. "But the situation was managed in the right way and it was clear that Israel enjoyed certain international support."
But there were protests in the southern towns that bore the brunt of the almost 1,500 rockets fired by Hamas and other militant groups - almost exactly the same number as Israel fired.
"We've suffered for eight days and we can suffer for two weeks if they can put an end to it once and for all," said Ziva Shmuelov, a resident of the desert town of Beersheva, which was hit by hundreds of rockets during the conflict.
Members of an infantry unit claimed they were twice given orders to advance into Gaza - once actually opening the border gates - before being told to stand down. "It's like crying wolf," said one soldier. "After a few of those you no longer believe it."
In one photograph much circulated on the internet, reservists on the Gaza frontline spelled out the words "Bibi Loser" with their own bodies and posted the picture on Facebook.
Netanyahu's own Facebook page was inundated by thousands of comments denouncing his leadership and promises to vote against Likud in elections due on Jan 22. "Shame on you, you embarrassingly capitulated to terror," said one post.
Netanyahu was stung into his own response, promising to hit back hard if rocket fire from Gaza resumed in the days or weeks ahead.
"The operation's goals were met," he said. "I know there are citizens that expect a harsher stand in Gaza - and we are prepared to make one. We choose when to act, against who to act and how to act."
Dan Meridor, the minister for intelligence, also acknowledged that the government was facing an uphill battle to convince a public that had wanted "to go all the way" with a ground invasion of Gaza that its calculations were right.
"We did not set out to ruin Hamas," he said. "In the end we want them to be able to control Gaza without attacks on us."
Netanyahu was backed by President Barack Obama, who phoned to congratulate him. "The president commended the prime minister for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, which the president recommended," a White House statement said. Obama also called President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt to thank him "for his efforts to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and for his personal leadership".
Netanyahu and Obama are now relying on their assumption that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, despite fierce hostility to Israel, can be drawn into a broader "soft Islamist" alliance of countries such as Turkey and Qatar which remain important western allies.
Under the truce, negotiations will now begin to meet Hamas's demands for an easing of Israel's blockade of Gaza. In return, Israel is asking Egypt to guarantee an end to the rearming of Hamas and other militant groups, particularly via smuggling through the Sinai.