Many speculated that the aircraft was trying to gather intelligence on Israel’s secretive nuclear reactor in the southern desert town of Dimona. Foreign experts believe the facility houses an arsenal of nuclear weapons, a claim that Israel neither confirms nor denies.
‘‘It’s quite a long distance, indicating a high level of sophistication,’’ said Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli general who is now an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli think tank.
The drone flight also came against the broader backdrop of rising tensions between Israel and Iran.
Israel accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, which it believes would threaten its existence, given the repeated calls by Iranian leaders for the destruction of Israel. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly held out the possibility of attacking Iranian nuclear facilities if they conclude that international sanctions and diplomacy have failed to curb the Iranian program.
Iran, in turn, has threatened to retaliate if it is attacked, raising the possibility of Hezbollah unleashing more rockets and missiles into Israel. Hezbollah has not said how it will react to an Israeli attack on its benefactor.
Iran recently claimed it now has drones capable of carrying missiles as far as 2,000 kilometers, or 1,250 miles, putting much of the Middle East, including Israel, within distance. The aircraft appeared to be similar to the American RQ-170 Sentinel, one of which went down in Iranian territory last year. Iran said it was building a copy of the RQ-170 in April.
Iran frequently makes announcements about its strides in military technology, but it is virtually impossible to independently determine the capabilities of its weapons.
Yiftah Shapir, another analyst at the INSS, said Saturday’s incident may have been meant as a warning to Israel.
‘‘The drone could be a message that they have the capability to pull this off, and do so perhaps with weapons,’’ he said.
He said Israel likely allowed the drone to fly so far into its airspace, instead of shooting it over the sea, in order to analyze its capabilities before taking it down.
Federman reported from Jerusalem. Lauren E. Bohn in Jerusalem contributed to this report.