The drive south on a cold winter morning in January 2009 was not the most comfortable ride. We sat in the back seats of the beaten-up white van with no real windows and an empty vegetable cart on the floor for him to rest his feet upon. Most of the traffic was headed in the opposite direction, as residents sought refuge far out of the range of incoming rockets.
With bombs and mortars falling in many of the southern communities, we weaved our way from city to city meeting the residents and hearing their concerns. Just a few weeks before the national elections, it was important for the leader of the opposition and a prime ministerial candidate to press the flesh while showcasing his superior security and defense expertise. More than once on this visit sirens sent us running for refuge and found us sharing claustrophobic bomb shelters with local residents and traveling journalists. These scenes clearly illustrated to the voting public the dire need for a new and stronger leadership.
On the ride home, I turned to the soon-to-be prime minister with a question. “What is your strategy for Gaza? Would it be different?”. Netanyahu looked at me and immediately responded “When facing a security threat, you must establish a clear and attainable goal. If your goal is deterrence while causing severe damage to the other side, an aerial campaign is sufficient. If you are going to send in troops, it would only be for a very clear objective such as conquering Gaza. Short of that, there is no reason to risk the lives of our soldiers.”
Years later, during Operation Protective Edge, and facing a similar situation, I once again deliberated with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The PM responded that “our strategic goal in the current operation is the destruction of Hamas tunnels crossing over to Israel. To complete that goal we will need to send in the ground troops, but not beyond the tunnels. We deal with the tunnels and get out.”
A misguided status quo
Since Israel’s misguided unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and continuing since the Hamas takeover in 2007, every Israeli government shared the same unspoken strategic goal for that territory. The accepted belief and naïve approach was that as long as quiet reigned on our southern border, a blind eye would be turned to the growing fundamentalism and military capabilities there.
Over the years, Israel has repeatedly been dragged into military conflict with Hamas – and in each round, our air force hit Gaza harder and harder. This bought Israel more time to quell the proverbial symptoms while not properly treating the underlying disease.
On October 7th, everything changed – and with it, Israel’s strategic goals must change. The nearly one thousand Israeli children, women, and men murdered in cold blood, together with the horrific images of children and babies being dragged into Gaza as hostages, have created a new reality. No longer will limited success be sufficient, it no longer is quite an acceptable objective.
The current situation is unprecedented and unfathomable; a new strategy is vital, and a new goal is imperative.
The complete and utter destruction of all terrorist capabilities in Gaza, and later in Lebanon, is the only tenable goal. The nightmare we are currently living through cannot be replayed ever again. Our government and military must guarantee that our current objective is not a short-term reprieve, but rather a final verdict.
House by house, street by street, our heroic soldiers will need to conduct a massive ground offensive to kill the killers and strip the terrorists of their weapons, their rocket manufacturing capabilities, and their explosives factories. Once Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and later Hezbollah are left impotent, then and only then, will our strategic goals be realized.
Removing all terrorist threats from our southern and northern borders will command a very high and painful price, but the alternative has sadly proven to be even more dreadful.
Our strategic goals must be clear and unwavering and can be summed up in one word. Victory.
“Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival,” as Winston Churchill famously said.
The writer is a former chief of staff to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the author of the soon-to-be-released book My Brother’s Keeper.