Militarily, Israel emerged from the confrontation with the upper hand. During the operation, it dealt a heavy blow to the rocket systems of Hamas and other organizations, including their infrastructures, launch sites and arsenals—and especially to the Iranian-developed Fajr-5 rocket system, although some of these long-range weapons survived and continued to concern Israel until the ceasefire was reached.
Hamas and other organizations in Gaza have invested years of work in making their rockets more effective. Israel applied the lessons it has learned about conducting asymmetric warfare against terror organizations and paramilitary forces that fire at civilians from civilian areas. The military selected targets carefully, used precision-guided munitions and high-quality, real-time intelligence to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage.
But Israel cannot ignore the strategic implications that would result from a strike on Iran's nuclear infrastructure, either by the U.S., Israel, or both. The Iranian regime would doubtless uses its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon to launch massive missile and rocket offensives on major Israeli cities and key military installations. With the capability to launch hundreds of missiles daily from a 60,000-strong arsenal, dozens of Iron Dome batteries would be required. These would take years to produce and adapt to counter such a threat. The David's Sling missile interceptor, estimated to be operational in two years, will add considerable defensive power, but under such conditions, Israel cannot allow itself to be dragged into a war of attrition, where thousands of rockets target its cities, and the government is compelled to launch a large-scale ground and air operation against Hezbollah in Lebanon with devastating results.
Although Israeli analysts believe that Pillar of Defense, along with the 2006 Lebanon war—a 34-day conflict that started when Hezbollah attacked in northern Israel, killing Israeli soldiers—enhanced deterrence, tensions remain high in the area. Israel is monitoring the deteriorating situation in Syria and has expressed its determination to attack and destroy military assets seeping from the Syrian military into Lebanon or to terror groups. Such assets include chemical weapons, coastal- and air-defense systems and ballistic missiles. Israel especially wants to assure that chemical weapons such as sarin, mustard gas and VX nerve agents do not fall into the hands of Hezbollah.
Another strategic imperative is to maintain air superiority over southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah's rocket and missile arsenal is hidden: On Jan. 30, Israeli warplanes attacked a convoy at a military base in Syria that was reportedly transporting advanced SA-17 Grizzly (Buk-M) surface-to-air missiles (SAM) to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Israeli air force (IAF) requires full operational freedom over Hezbollah territory in Lebanon. The deployment of weapons such as the SA-17 is unacceptable to Israel, as it was when Syria deployed SA-6 SAMs in 1982: The IAF destroyed them before the First Lebanon War. The SA-17, successor to the SA-6, can hit targets up to 50 km (31 mi.) away and intercept aircraft at altitudes of 10,000-24,000 meters (33,000-79,000 ft.).
The fully mobile system comprises radar and command vehicles, and associated transport and launch vehicles mounting four missiles. Every missile is an independent system, so if one is compromised, the other three remain operational. The individual vehicles are relatively easily camouflaged and later versions have phased-array radar.
Israeli intelligence has established the presence of Hezbollah in Syria, in or near bases holding such weapons, where its crews are being trained in their operation. However, as the Syrian civil war continues, Hezbollah has grown increasingly concerned that its weapons cache could fall into the hands of rebels. The group wants to bring the weapons to its bases in Lebanon, hoping to use weather and camouflage to blind Israeli airborne surveillance.
The Syrian military has also bought the Pantsir-S1 system from Russia, a shorter-range system than the SA-17 but more modern, having only recently entered Russian service. Each self-contained launch unit carries its own radar, 12 ready-to-fire missiles—two-stage weapons designed for rapid acceleration—and two cannon.