On Wednesday night, around midnight, amid the indiscriminate rocket fire from the terrorists in Gaza, concerned friends from the U.S. phoned to ask how we were doing. I didn’t have to say much -- our conversation was interrupted almost immediately as a siren pierced the quiet Ashkelon night. Our friends were able hear it clearly from a safer distance of 10,000 kilometers.
Another rocket salvo toward Ashkelon sent us to the safe room. I continued the conversation with the siren blaring in the background, followed by a now-familiar boom: Iron Dome intercepting the rocket. My friends across the ocean were stunned: "How in the hell are you willing to live like this?"
Indeed, no civilians anywhere in the world, including in President Barack Obama's United States, would agree to live like this for 13 years, without exerting their right to defend themselves at any cost. The window of opportunity that has now been opened to Israel makes it possible to initiate a strategic move, to destroy the military infrastructure of the terrorist groups in Gaza -- Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
I can alleviate the concerns of those who believe Israeli deterrence in regard to Hamas has already been depleted. It is enough to look at the images of the terrorists on camera wearing masks, lest we identify their faces and bring them to justice, to understand that our deterrence is valid and substantial. The main problem we are facing, however, is the weaponry at their disposal and the ease with which their leadership (political and military) uses it against Israeli civilians, as they surround themselves in Gaza with a human shield of Palestinian civilians. Hamas knows very well that the IDF will take pains to avoid harming civilians, even as Hamas indiscriminately fires into Israeli population centers.
Without destroying the terrorists' military infrastructure in Gaza we will continue living from one round of shooting to the next, as the time in between rounds decreases and the range of the rockets increases. They have already dragged half of our population into a war of attrition. Our airstrikes are approaching the point of decreasing effectiveness, when they will no longer stop or reduce the amount of shooting at Israel. Hamas terrorists and their leaders are acting according to their capabilities, not according to our logic.
The time is ripe to switch from tactical operations (Pillar of Defense, Cast Lead, Protective Edge) to a strategic campaign which will dramatically diminish the terrorists' ability to hurt us. This campaign is not something that should last for just a month or two -- rather a year or two. There is absolutely no reason to abandon the Israeli public to more years of living under fire. We defeated suicide terrorism and we will be able to eradicate rocket terrorism. Arresting thousands of terrorists in Gaza and continuing the airstrikes will produce the intelligence required to reformat terrorism in Gaza. This is what our civilian and military leaders need to do.
Avi Dichter is a former internal security and homefront defense minister, Shin Bet security agency director, and Knesset member.