Israel and Iran are likely seeking to avoid further escalating their long-simmering feud into a regional war after an apparent Israeli strike last week, one Middle East expert says — but Iran may still be building a target list for the future.

Israel and the United States have not commented on who was responsible for a series of explosions over the Iranian city of Isfahan on Friday, which Iran said were air defences shooting down several attack drones launched from Israel. It came nearly a week after Iran launched hundreds of missiles and drones toward Israel — nearly all of which were repelled — in retaliation over an Israeli strike that killed two Iranian generals at an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria.

Iran has downplayed Friday’s incident and said it does not plan to retaliate — a response that Jonathan Panikoff, director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council, says Israel likely planned for.

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“I think you’re really seeing Iran try to put this away and not have a big war over this,” he told Mercedes Stephenson in an interview that aired Sunday on The West Block.

“Iran probably is not ready for massive escalation in a war, and Israel certainly doesn’t want it at a time where they’re also struggling to finalize things in Gaza and figure out what to do about Rafah.”

Click to play video: 'Israel reportedly launches strikes into Iran, air defences destroy drones in Isfahan'

Israel reportedly launches strikes into Iran, air defences destroy drones in Isfahan

The fact the drones were apparently targeting Isfahan, which is home not just to a major air base but also sites associated with Iran’s nuclear program, further shows Israel’s response to Iran’s attack was “symmetric,” Panikoff added.

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“It’s really saying to the Iranians, look, we can hit you. You are not allowed to target us with impunity,” he said.

“(Israel is saying,) ‘We’re giving you an out here. We have no interest in escalating if you don’t want to escalate.’ And so it’s really now in the Iranians’ court to make a decision about whether or not they feel a need to strike Israel again or to let it go.”

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Although Iran may not wish to strike back at Israel in the short term, Panikoff said he has “no doubt” that Tehran is building a target list that could be used in the future. The Iranian attack showed the regime is currently focused on military targets in Israel, but he said that could change.

“That (target list) probably includes both military targets for a future conflict that is somewhat contained, (and) civilian targets (if it) is much broader,” he said.

Hezbollah may also be given a separate list of potential targets that could include Israeli gas depots and even its nuclear program headquarters, he said.

Click to play video: 'White House offers ‘no comment’ on reported Israeli strikes on Iran'

White House offers ‘no comment’ on reported Israeli strikes on Iran

Reuters reported on Friday that Israel held back on previously-approved plans for a response to Iran’s attack after facing cabinet divisions and strong warnings from partners including the United States not to escalate the conflict.

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The U.S. has repeatedly said it will support Israel’s defence if Iran continues to attack. Panikoff said the same may not be said for Iran, whose closest allies — Russia and China — are more “transactional” without the close bonds Israel and the West enjoy.

“The Iranian-Russian relationship has gotten much, much closer throughout the Russian war in Ukraine … but there’s questions about whether that’s just tactical or there’s actually a strategic nature to it,” he said.

“Will Russia come and meaningfully support Iran in the event of a conflict? Will China provide support to Iran? Probably not.”

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