Senior Israeli officials told Axios that in recent weeks, Israel’s military has been instructed to prepare for a possible US military strike on Iran before President Trump leaves office. The officials anticipate “a very sensitive period” before Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20th.
Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that President Trump reviewed options to strike an Iranian nuclear site but was talked out of pulling the trigger by his advisors. Officials left the meeting thinking a military strike was off the table for now, but the president left other options open.
The Israeli officials told Axios that they expect the US will give them prior notice of a planned attack but fear it may not be sufficient to fully prepare. The officials said that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are preparing for either direct retaliation from Iran or through groups it supports in Gaza, Syria, or Lebanon, all areas that Israel frequently bombs.
In this past week alone, there have been multiple reports of Israel striking targets inside Syria. Israel usually stays quiet on its airstrikes in Syria, but last week, in a rare move, Israel confirmed it launched attacks that hit a wide range of targets inside Syria. The IDF released a video of some of the strikes against targets it said were Iranian-linked. The strikes came after Israel claimed explosives were planted in the Golan Heights in an “Iranian-led” mission.
For their part, Iran is cautious about getting sucked into a military confrontation with the US and Israel during the final days of the Trump administration. Iraqi officials told The Associated Press that Iran delivered a message to its allies in the region last week to be on high alert and avoid provoking tensions with the US.
While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was traveling in the region last week, a State Department official was asked about the Times report and the possibility of a strike on Iran. The official said, “all options are on the table,” and that the Trump administration “will continue to pursue its policies until it’s not in office anymore.”
The Trump administration is continuing to ramp up its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran with the goal of making it as difficult as possible for a Biden administration to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Last week, the US slapped sanctions on Iran, and more are expected in the coming weeks.