If Israel could intercept 90 percent of the rockets fired at it while simultaneously attacking Hizbullah from the air, the entire debate over a ground offensive would have been irrelevant. But without that capability, Israel has no alternative.
The dozens of Kassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip at Sderot in June 2006 were the coming attraction for the thousands of rockets that have landed in the North since July 12.
There are a number of similarities between the Gaza Strip after disengagement (September 12, 2005) and south Lebanon after Israel's withdrawal (May 24, 2000). In both cases, Israel gave up 100 percent of the territory. In both cases, the territory that was evacuated was taken over by terrorist organizations - Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in south Lebanon.
In both cases, the IDF withdrawal was perceived as proof of Israel's weakness and the lack of its society's resilience.
In both cases, too, the weakness of the central government enabled the terrorist organizations to impose their authority over the area. In Gaza, we have the inability of the Palestinian Authority in the past and the reluctance of the Hamas government in the present to impose a cessation of terror activity; in Lebanon, we have the self-effacement of the Lebanese government before Hizbullah and Hassan Nasrallah.
In both cases, the areas evacuated by the IDF became an increasingly sophisticated repository for rockets and other arms. In Gaza, the main source of the arms is the smuggling route from Egypt, and in Lebanon active assistance in arming Hizbullah with weapons is provided by Syria and Iran.
At first, in June 2006, Sderot became hostage to the dozens of Kassam rockets fired at it from Gaza, making the lives of its people intolerable. Then, from July 12, the North fell hostage to the thousands of Katyusha and other rockets being fired at it. The North has become a war zone.
Hizbullah was and remains the inspiration for the Palestinian organizations, their role model and hero. More than anything else, the Palestinian terror organizations would like an upgrade of their rocket capability to bring it up to par in quality and quantity with that of Hizbullah. For the terror organizations in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, Hizbullah is the victor, and Nasrallah's is the path they want to follow.
The rockets fired by the enemy are terrorizing the country. Looking forward 10 years or so, an improvement in their range and precision could create a situation in which the entire country is in danger, with every home and building a target. Combined with cellular and GPS technologies, it could create a lethal arsenal of rockets capable of paralyzing the entire State of Israel, turning it into a ghost state.
Extremely grave strategic mistakes were made in carrying out both disengagement from Gaza and the withdrawal from Lebanon, but they are dwarfed by the threat that a terrorist organization of a few thousand men armed with tens of thousands of Iranian-made rockets could pose to an entire country - an impossible war of attrition.
This would not be a war of attrition of the kind fought along the Suez Canal in 1968-1970 or in Mazrat Beit Jann, Syria, in January-June 1974, remote from the home front. This would not be a war of attrition that holds the North and a small part of the South hostage to the trigger-happy Hamas and Hizbullah. Looking into the future, the whole country, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba, could be targeted by thousands of highly precise rockets. A missile guided by a GPS system could land at any specified address.
In view of Israel's inability so far to stop the rocket fire from south Lebanon, that is a nightmare scenario. Even if a cease-fire is achieved in the coming days, and even if Hizbullah moves northward, its deployment north of the Litani - or even north of the Zaharani - combined with more sophisticated Iranian missiles could bring about the scenario described above.
What can and should be done? Over the next few years, the R&D efforts of the State of Israel must make the development of missile defense systems its first priority, to achieve an operational capability to intercept the majority of rockets launched toward Israel.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, when Israel decided to develop nuclear power, it knew how to do so, despite being a tiny country with a population of only two million. This project must receive national priority. In view of the rocket threat we are facing from the terror organizations supported by Iran, it is a matter of life and death.
Deterrence is closely linked to the operational abilities of the military and its weapons systems, as well as to the willingness to use them and to exact a very high price for the unrestrained rocket attacks being carried out against
State of Israel.
If Israel currently had arms capable of intercepting 90% of the rockets, and with the IAF attacking Hizbullah as it has been doing until now, there would be no need to send in ground forces and the entire debate we have witnessed over the offensive in South Lebanon would be irrelevant. In such a situation, Hizbullah would understand the ineffectiveness of its missile arsenal and would likely be reluctant to use it.
But in the absence of this type of weapons system, Israel has no choice but to gain deterrence and a decisive outcome through a combination of massive ground forces in south Lebanon supported by the air force and navy, and a more massive attack on Lebanon's infrastructures.
The collective memory of all those living in the Middle East - especially Iranians, Syrians and the Palestinians - must be seared by the sight of the terrible price that Lebanon is paying for the destruction caused to Israel during this war, to create a psychology of deterrence.
Brig.-Gen. Doron Almog was head of the IDF Southern Command in 2000-2003. In September 1999, he received the Tshetshik Prize for Strategic Studies from Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies for his study on Israel's Deterrence Strategy as a Model for Accumulating Deterrence.