In a Middle East already shocked by Hamas’ Israeli war, the specter of regional conflict is growing.
Pakistan launched retaliatory airstrikes against Iran on Thursday morning, two days after a similar attack by Tehran on Pakistani soil.
The attack killed at least seven people in the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan, which borders Pakistan.
Pakistan said it hit “terrorist hideouts” in the attack, which escalated already high tensions between the two nuclear-armed states.
Tehran similarly said its attack on Tuesday was aimed at terrorist groups.
Both countries have long accused each other of harboring militant groups that launch attacks from their shared border regions.
The tit-for-tat attacks come amid a growing threat of violence spreading across the Middle East, convulsed by Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Iran also staged airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on Monday following a suicide bombing, claimed by Islamic State, that killed more than 90 people earlier this month. Iraq has recalled its ambassador from Iran for consultations.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry described Thursday’s attack as “a series of highly coordinated and targeted precision military strikes.”
“This morning’s action was taken in light of credible information regarding imminent large-scale terrorist activity,” the Foreign Office said in a statement. “This action is a manifestation of Pakistan’s firm determination to protect and defend its national security from all threats.”
Iranian officials said three women and four children were killed.
Several rebel groups operate in Iran and Pakistan, including the Sunni separatist group Jaish al-Adl which was targeted by Tehran in its own attack.
They all have the common goal of an independent Baluchistan for the ethnic Baluch areas in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, as well as the neighboring Iranian provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan, have faced a low-level insurgency by Baluchi nationalists for more than two decades.
Official military action between Pakistan and Iran on this issue is rare, and they generally maintain cordial, if fragile, relations.
On Wednesday, Pakistan recalled its ambassador to Tehran because Iran attacked southwestern Baluchistan province two days ago.
Iran said it had targeted the bases of a Sunni separatist militant group.
It drew strong condemnation from Pakistan, which denounced the attack as a “blatant violation” of its airspace and said it killed two children.
The risk of escalation remained Thursday as the Iranian military began a planned annual air defense exercise from the port of Chabahar, near Pakistan, across the country’s south to Iraq.
The exercise will include live fire from aircraft, drones and air defense systems.
Iran and Pakistan share a 900-kilometer (560-mile) largely lawless border where traffickers and militants pass freely between the two nations. The route is also critical for global opium shipments out of Afghanistan.