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We have reached a crucial stage in the IDF's operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. If we are not careful, we may have defeat staring us in the face - another defeat, after the fiasco of the Second Lebanon War. This time at the hands of Hamas, a terrorist organization even smaller and weaker than Hezbollah.

Insistent calls are being heard for a cease-fire. Some of these calls come from outside Israel and others come from within our midst. If the IDF does not complete the mission it has been assigned, of suppressing the launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip against the cities, towns and villages of southern Israel, and if the final act before a cease-fire goes into effect ends up being an avalanche of rockets fired by Hamas against Israel, not only Hamas and the Arab states, but most of the world, will consider Hamas as having succeeded in defeating Israel.

This would be a repetition of what happened during the Second Lebanon War. Aside from the danger that Hamas, during a cease-fire, would equip itself with a new supply of rockets, some of even greater range than the ones currently in its arsenal, and that the civilian population in the south will continue to live under the threat of renewed rocket fire by Hamas, such a second defeat would do irreparable damage to the general security of Israel, serving as an invitation to further provocations and aggression by Israel's enemies in the years to come. All of Israel's citizens, not only those living in the south, would bear the burden of such a development.

It was Henry Kissinger who said that "the conventional army loses if it does not win - the guerilla wins if he does not lose." Any terrorist group that manages to face up to the might of the IDF and survive while continuing its attacks against Israel will invariably be seen as the victor. In the present fighting in the Gaza Strip, the IDF will lose if it does not win, and Hamas will emerge as the victor. No amount of wordage in a UN Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire, or promises offered Israel by the international community, are going to change the face of the end result. That is what happened when UN Security Council Resolution 1701 brought about the cease-fire that ended the Second Lebanon War and the deployment of UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon. You only need to take a look at what has happened to Hezbollah, its stockpile of rockets and its position in Lebanon since the cease-fire to see what is likely to occur in the Gaza Strip in the wake of a similar cease-fire there. For some reason, it is Israel that has difficulty learning that a cease-fire with terrorists is only to the advantage of the terrorists. Terrorism has to be destroyed.

Unlike the traditional Israeli position in the days of Ben-Gurion and Begin, which put Israel's security interests first, in recent years some of our politicians have become obsessed with the notion that any Israeli military activity is bound to be limited by pressure from the international community, pressure to which we presumably will have to accede even if it puts our national security at risk.

In fact, the understanding in much of the world, and especially in the United States, for Israel's security, and especially for its battle against terrorism, has grown considerably in recent years. The idea that Israel may face unbearable international pressure that would limit its response against terrorist forces has little basis in fact. During the Second Lebanon War, the IDF could have had all the time it needed if it had taken effective action against Hezbollah, and such action would have been applauded in many places abroad. The same is true in the present battle against Hamas - if we are seen as being successful, we will have nothing to fear from any quarter. If there are any doubts in our midst they can be laid to rest by recalling the statements made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, of New York, during his recent visit to Ashkelon, and those made by senior Democratic and Republican senators and by President Bush. Most of those Israeli politicians who speak of the need to stop our military activity before international pressure forces us to stop have precious little experience with the American political establishment.

Our job now is to keep our eye on the ball, and not be diverted from the task at hand. The IDF must continue to pursue the mission it has been assigned and put an end to the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip. We have the ability to do so and it must be done. The consequences of failure, regardless of the explanations offered by Israeli politicians and the wording of the relevant UN Security Council Resolution, would bode very ill for Israel.