Tensions between Israel and Iran have increased since 10 February, when Israel shot down an Iranian-made drone launched from Syria and attacked military targets there, including Iranian installations. Policymakers in both Israel and the United States believe that Iran's strategy is to make Syria a platform for war against Israel, and broadly favour rolling back Iran in Syria. In this light, the prospect of a regional war looms larger.

Tensions between Israel and Iran spiked on 10 February 2018, when an Iranian-produced unmanned aerial vehicle – launched from a Syrian air base near Palmyra – crossed into Israeli airspace. The drone was an Iranian copy of a US SQ-170 Sentinel, one of which Iran had captured after its operators in Afghanistan inadvertently let it cross into Iranian airspace in 2011. Although the Syrian government said the drone was its own and privately took responsibility for the launch, Israeli intelligence intercepted launch-crew communications conducted in Farsi, which suggests that Iran was responsible. It is possible that the truth lies somewhere in between: the launch crew could well have been Iranian, but the command-and-control, particularly at a Syrian air base, could have been Syrian.

Analysts tend to attribute the drone launch to either Syria or Iran, and not to both jointly. Those who assess the launch to have been an Iranian operation believe it aimed to test Israel’s ability to detect such aircraft; most analysts who judge Syria to have been responsible think the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wanted to signal to Israel that it would no longer tolerate the Israeli Air Force (IAF) treating Syria as an effective free-fire zone. Israeli military aircraft have conducted hundreds of strikes against regime targets since 2012. In either case, analysts believe that the launch was tacitly sanctioned by Russia.

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Rising Israeli–Iranian tensions

The prospect of a regional war between Israel and Iran looms larger after Israel shot down an Iranian-made drone launched from Syria and attacked military targets there.