Israel has been under threat for 65 years. The threat changes in form and size, but its goal remains the same — the removal of the Jewish people from their land. We have yet to fully understand this, which is why Israel continues to be under fire from north and south. This failure of understanding and the emotional adoption of moral values are a point of weakness that is taken advantage of day and night by those seeking to take away slices of land on which we built this country. We still can't fathom what the price would be of being defeated by those who threaten our existence.
The "New Middle East" is an illusion based on the mistaken assumption that economic development would spark changes in the outlook of the Arab world that surrounds us. Those who believe in this idea have received a resounding slap to the face. Islam has allowed extremist groups to obtain sympathy and trust while hoisting the flag of religious piety. As this piety grew and the status of these groups got stronger, many more believers joined the extremist ranks. As the size of these groups increased, so did their military strength and the willingness of their followers to die in the name of the "Islamic conspiracy of silence," which is what differentiates healthy secular societies from sick extremist religious societies.
Over the years, armed groups have earned the title of terrorist organizations, as if there is a difference between those who carry weapons in the name of Islam and those who do not. The history of the past century shows that the only difference is between those who are using weapons now and those who will use them in the future. If we figure out how to tailor different responses to different groups and communities, we will be able to produce internal pressure, particularly among those who have something to lose.
Terrorist organizations that took heavy blows during past military clashes with Israel did not lay down their weapons. Their arsenals have not rusted, but the opposite. Terror groups have seized opportunities to take over areas of land, where they have established societies characterized by religious extremism and constant shortage. The "ideology of scarcity" that has been adopted by terrorist leaders has allowed them to unite communities with feelings of deprivation and victimization, with the use of a finger of blame pointed toward the Western world, mainly Israel and the U.S.
Not many people know that even when Israel opens the Erez and Rafah crossings with the Gaza Strip, Hamas leaders don't permit all of the goods to enter. Hamas then blames shortages on Israeli malice. Hamas' original solution — smuggling tunnels that provide some goods — increase the dependence of the Gazan population on Hamas, which profits from the tunnels and lines the pockets of its leaders. The elimination of the tunnels would be a direct mortal blow to Hamas. The tunnels are something Hamas can't afford to lose.
The events taking place in our region require us to act unequivocally. Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, headlines have screamed, "The Assad regime won't last." Many of those hoping for Assad's downfall are the same people who envisioned doves of peace flying between Damascus and Jerusalem. They predicted the breakup of the "axis of evil" that runs from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. None of these people asked who would take power in Syria after the departure of the Alawites. They only argued over how long it would take for Assad to fall.
More than two years have passed, and once again reality has defied the prognosticators. Assad is still in power. And among the extremist groups fighting against him, we have only to decide which would be the least bad in the short term if Assad falls. Al-Qaida, Global Jihad and other groups of this sort have already carved out positions for themselves in Syria. If Assad falls, they will be the next threat. I personally prefer Assad, not out of any great affection for him, but because Israel's power of deterrence works against him, due to the fact that he has something to lose.
During Operation Pillar of Defense, which ended five months ago, Israel produced an effective level of deterrence against Hamas. Unlike in Operation Cast Lead, targeting Hamas leaders or their homes was enough to restore order at the time. But only five months later, mortar shells and rockets are again preventing the children of Israel's south from living the routine lives they deserve. We've already forgotten the need to maintain deterrence. I'm sure that if Hamas commanders in Gaza were to lose their homes in the wake of rocket fire at Israel, they would make it their responsibility to prevent such rocket fire, because they would have something to lose.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Zvika Fogel is a former chief of staff of the IDF Southern Command.