An open-ended cease-fire between Israel and Hamas went into effect at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, eight days after Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense and after a particularly harsh day for the citizens of Israel.

A bus bombing in Tel Aviv and an escalation of rocket attacks from Gaza made the cease-fire difficult to stomach for many Israelis, and according to opinion polls, the majority oppose the truce agreement.

They will no doubt voice their views in the days to come, and have their say in the national elections called for January 22. The cease-fire marks the beginning of an election campaign that is now expected to focus on the merits of the deal brokered by Egypt.

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Let us not forget that the operation was born of the necessity to halt the incessant rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, and not to start a new cycle of violence.

Israel has always been a peace-loving nation, and resorted to taking up arms only because it was forced to by its enemies.

Despite the celebrations of victory witnessed in the Gaza Strip following the announcement of the truce, the government and the military are confident that the IDF operation dealt a harsh blow to Hamas, its leaders and weapons arsenal. Although IDF ground forces were ready to enter Gaza, it would have been a risky endeavor, possibly resulting in many Israeli casualties.

While many Israelis might be angry that the military operation has been stopped, many also heaved a collective sigh of relief that our soldiers’ and civilians’ lives would not be endangered further.

Egypt, it should be noted, ultimately played a positive role in pressing Hamas to agree to a truce. The US and the international community, led by the United Nations, also played a key role in brokering the deal.

The nations of the world were mostly sympathetic to Israel’s right to defend itself and strike at terrorists indiscriminately firing rockets at Israeli civilians, but the tide appeared to be turning, with many of them urging Israel to exercise restraint and not to carry out a ground operation.

Shortly before the cease-fire with Hamas went into effect, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman by his side – said Israel reserved the right to renew its battle against the terrorists in Gaza if they continued to attack.

Netanyahu said he knew that there were Israelis who wanted a more extensive operation against Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, but the government had decided to give the cease-fire a chance.

He claimed that Operation Pillar of Defense had achieved its primary goal of restoring calm to the South and exacting a heavy toll from terrorist groups, destroying thousands of rockets aimed at Israel.

The prime minister pointedly thanked US President Barack Obama for his “unwavering support for Israel and its right to defend itself. Netanyahu said he and Obama had agreed to cooperate against the smuggling of weapons to terrorist organizations, “weapons that arrive mostly from Iran.”

Strong support from the Obama administration and the superb success of Iron Dome in intercepting many of the deadly rockets fired at Israel over the past week have been the most welcome developments of Operation Pillar of Defense.

Now that the two governments have cooperated on achieving the cease-fire, it may signal the continuation of close relations between Jerusalem and Washington. It proves that despite perceived tensions between leaderships, the two sides can work well together when it counts.

Under pressure from the US, Egypt may now begin playing a more positive leadership role in stabilizing the region. And if the Palestinian Authority would abandon its pointless bid for statehood at the United Nations, this would also be the time to resume peace negotiations.

Everything rests on whether the cease-fire lasts. The real test will be the situation on the ground. And if there is peace for a period, as we all hope, the spectrum of political parties can now concentrate on providing us with their visions for the future.

We call on our leaders to make the most of the period ahead to build up our relations with the outside world, and stand together in a united front against terrorism.

Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups funded by Iran must know that they dare not attack Israel with impunity again. Next time, the government in power may not let them off the hook so quickly.

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