Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dreams of a new Middle East in which leading pro-US Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are weakened and Iran becomes the new regional superpower. The destruction of Israel is part of the dream, which is shared by Syria. Iran is working hard to realize Ahmadinejad's dream, destabilizing the "Shi'ite Crescent" stretching from Iran to Iraq to Syria; and from Syria to Lebanon, where the Shi'ites are the largest minority. Another Shi'ite branch runs from Iran to the Gulf Emirates and eastern Saudi Arabia - and it is rich in oil as well as in Shi'ites. Terror, the kidnapping of IDF soldiers and the Israeli response are all part of the Iranian-Syrian dream. Arab leaders, standing by as Israel strikes back, are portrayed as collaborators of Israel and the US; and Israel is depicted as sinking into a quagmire of deepening attrition, faltering invincibility, ebbing deterrence and a teetering economy - and a burden to the US, an ally that cannot be relied on when the going gets tough. THE ACTUAL work is being done for Syria and Iran by terrorist organizations, Hizbullah in particular acting as a fully-fledged forward unit of the Iranian army. And not only are Syria and Iran not paying a price, they are learning that the system works and terror pays. If the current conflict ends without a severe blow to Hizbullah and without Syria and Iran paying heavily, Ahmadinejad's dream will move ahead in leaps and bounds. Iran and Syria will grow unrecognizably stronger, with Iran on its way to attaining regional hegemony as it moves ahead with its plans to acquire nuclear power. The influence of the Western-leaning Arab countries is weakening as Islamist and terrorist organizations burgeon and destabilize them internally. We are seeing countries like Sudan and Yemen jumping on the extremist bandwagon. Russia, which wants to restore its previous position internationally, has decided to challenge the US in the Middle East and is aiding Iran and Syria. It will do so even more in the future. Ditto China. WE ISRAELIS also have a dream: to live in peace and quiet on our land. We want to bring our kidnapped soldiers home and remove the threat of missiles hanging over our towns and cities. And we have no other option but to go ahead and do it: We cannot avoid the problem, as Israeli governments have done so far. We have no choice but to win this war, decisively and at any price. It is an absolute necessity, and the only way to do it is by preventing the enemy from making any gains, and exacting a disproportionate price from all those involved in the terror. The war can end only after Hizbullah has been disarmed of most of its missiles, cut off from the flow of supplies from Syria, distanced many kilometers from our border and weakened to the extent that its bitter enemies in Lebanon - Christians, Druse, Sunnis and Shi'ite rivals - can deal with it. This necessitates the entry of massive ground forces, for a fixed period, into the area north of the international border up to the Litani River, and to the areas from where the missiles are being launched at Israel's northern cities. SYRIA, conducting the war against Israel via Hizbullah and sending it regular supplies of advanced weaponry, must also pay a direct price. This should initially be restricted to attacks on just a few military facilities, but the message must be unambiguous: Any further Hizbullah attacks on our citizens will result in more extensive and harsher attacks on Syria. Declarations by Israeli ministers that Israel will not attack Syria only encourage it to continue supporting the terrorists. Tel Aviv's insurance policy lies in Damascus, not Beirut, and failing to exact a price from Syria at this time will bring another war on us in the future, under far worse conditions - just as failing to confront the activity north of our border over the past six years, when Syria was building up its terrorist infrastructure in Lebanon, led to the current war. Syria feels threatened by American forces in Iraq to the east, and will beware of a war with a determined Israel to its west. An approach that severely undermines Iran's allies Syria and Hizbullah will weaken the axis of terror and exact a high price without direct confrontation. IRAN, SYRIA and their terror tentacles became convinced by Israel's leadership over the past 13 years that terror pays. They interpreted the Oslo Agreements as surrender; the withdrawal from Lebanon as a panicky capitulation; the total, unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, without receiving anything at all in return, along with the planned "realignment," as flights from terror. The helplessness the IDF demonstrated following the abduction of three of our soldiers in October 2000, the Hizbullah terror attacks since, the rain of Kassam rockets on Sderot in the south - amid declarations from Israeli leaders that the "powerful IDF will respond with full strength," "Gaza will tremble" and "restraint is strength" - only served to bolster that same conclusion: Terror pays. THOSE WHO do not demonstrate courage and wisdom today will tomorrow face a dark, terrifying and nonconventional regional "new order," putting the very existence of Israel - and with it, the entire West - in unprecedented peril. This war, forced upon us, is a one-time opportunity to disrupt the plans of Iran and Syria while most of the democratic world still supports us. It is a war of no choice. Our victory is a necessary condition for any future peace process, and for us to be able to realize our dream of peace and quiet in the face of the evil dream of an extreme, nuclearized Middle East filled with terror. The writer is former minister for public security and former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.