What's going on with the Iran-Pakistan strikes?

STORY: Iran and Pakistan's deadly tit-for-tat strikes over the past days are the highest-profile conflicts across their border in recent years.

It's raised alarm over whether it means wider instability in the Middle East, with Iran also launching strikes in Iraq and Syria this week, against the backdrop of a raging Israel-Gaza war.

Let's take a look at what's behind the flare-up - and where it's headed.

[Who were the targets?]

Iran sent shockwaves around the region on Tuesday, when it launched a missile strike in Pakistan's southwest Balochistan province across their shared border.

Ruled by Shi'ite Muslims, Iran said it was targeting the Jaish al-Adl group there, saying it's linked to the Islamic State, who are ultra-hardline Sunni Muslims.

Two days later, Pakistan hit back - at the neighboring Sistan-Baluchestan province in Iran.

It said it struck separatist militants from the Balochistan Liberation Front and a related army, who it says were hiding out there.

[Why did Iran launch a strike?]

Iran has vowed revenge against Islamic State since the group said they were behind a deadly bombing on Jan. 3.

That took place at a ceremony honoring the late commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a U.S. drone in 2020.

A source close to Iran's clerics told Reuters the bombing was "an embarrassment for the leadership" that had shown Iranian security to be vulnerable.

In a statement, Iran's foreign ministry said it wanted "neighborly relations" with Pakistan, but called on Islamabad to prevent the establishment of "terrorist bases" on its soil.

[What about Pakistan's strikes?]

Ethnic Baloch militants have battled Pakistan's government for decades for an independent state.

They say it unfairly exploits Balochistan province's rich gas and mineral resources.

BLF insurgents have also attacked Chinese citizens and investments in the restive province.

Islamabad said in a statement, the "sole objective" of its strikes were "in pursuit of Pakistan's own security and national interest, which is paramount and cannot be compromised."

[Is it linked to the Israel-Gaza war?]

Analysts have noted that in their statements following the strikes, neither Tehran nor Islamabad made any links to attacks on Israel and Red Sea shipping carried out in support of Palestinians by a network of Iran-allies.

But given Pakistan's attempts in recent years to broaden ties with the U.S., along with Iran's other regional strikes this week, analysts say Iran could be trying to show its influence in the context of the regional crisis over Gaza.

Here's Brookings Institution's foreign policy director Suzanne Maloney:

"The hope is to force the United States to pull back from its posture in the region, both its direct and ongoing support to Israel's war in Gaza, but also, of course, the long standing American military presence in various parts of the region."

[Will the frictions escalate?]

Analysts say the frictions along the border are longstanding, but neither side appear poised for more conflict.

"They will continue to create political tensions between the two governments, but both governments have other issues to deal with. And it would be highly unusual if this were to rise to a very significant, breach or, an escalation of the violence"

In public statements, both countries said their attacks were not aimed at each other's nationals, and signaled they don't want escalation.