On Tuesday, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem said in an interview with pan-Arab TV network Al-Mayadeen that Iran was likely to retaliate forcefully to the attack in Syria.
"We have to expect something from Iran," he said, adding, "Hezbollah and Iran will not allow Israel to limit their movement in Syria.”
Israeli military officials say an Iranian drone that crossed the border in February — triggering an Israeli raid in Syria and resulting in the downing of one of its jets — was "armed with explosives and was tasked to attack Israel," but they have not provided evidence to support this claim.
The ratcheting up of tensions comes as Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, with the help of Iranian forces, had made gains against rebels seeking to unseat him. This has allowed Iran and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militia to entrench even closer to the border with Israel.
Despite the rhetoric, experts believe neither Iran nor Israel are looking for open conflict.
“This is just saber-rattling” by Iran, according to Holly Dagres, Middle East analyst and curator of The Iranist newsletter.
Iran does not have nuclear weapons to counter Israel’s own arsenal, which the government has never admitted to but is widely assumed to exist, she added.
“The worst they have is ballistic missiles,” she said. “When you look at it that way, it’s empty words.”
Hanging over Iranian officials is the landmark 2015 agreement that saw Tehran abandon its nuclear weapons program in exchange for an easing of international sanctions. President Donald Trump has long opposed the deal, and many expect him not to re-certify the pact by a May 12 deadline.
Yossi Kuperwasser, the former head of research at the Israeli Defense Force's military intelligence division, said Israel could use international help in reining in Iran.
"It’s a pity the international community doesn’t do more in order to make sure that Iran doesn’t turn Syria into a country under its direct control," he said.
Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv, F. Brinley Bruton and Rachel Elbaum reported from London, and Lawahez Jabari reported from Jerusalem.