Trump, who pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and is said to have considered a military strike on its enrichment facilities, is due to leave office in January and hand over to Biden who wants to repair the pact.
European officials told Business Insider that they fear Trump will force a ‘major confrontation’ to tie Biden’s hands, or else that Israel or Saudi Arabia will see Trump’s remaining weeks in office as their last chance of engaging in hostilities with Iran.
‘We are concerned about the instincts of President Trump to force a major confrontation as he leaves office that might tie Biden’s hands,’ said one official.
‘But while we have no confidence in the current American president not to act rashly, we do have some confidence that the political unpopularity of any move along with the deep concerns I am sure the military leadership expressed will make it difficult.’
The concerns from Europe came as Israeli warplanes struck Iranian targets in Syria on Wednesday, killing 10 Syrian and foreign fighters in what the Israeli army described as a ‘retaliatory attack’ after explosive devices were found near one of its bases in the occupied Golan Heights.
Donald Trump (pictured) could trigger military action against Iran before leaving office in January, security officials fear
Israeli warplanes struck Iranian targets in Syria on Wednesday, killing 10. The Israeli military claimed the attacks were ‘retaliation’ after they say they found explosive devices near a base in the occupied Golan Heights region, which Israel annexed in 1967
Analysts suggest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) is concerned about the incoming Biden administration after enjoying a particularly close relationship with outgoing President Donald Trump (right), which resulted in key gains for Israel [File photo]
Iran fires up advanced uranium centrifuges installed at Natanz site – a day after it emerged Trump had asked for options on attacking the facility
Tehran is pumping nuclear fuel into high-tech IR-2m machines at Natanz, in contravention of an international deal to only use first generation IR-1 machines, a UN report revealed today.
Trump held an Oval Office meeting last week where he was ‘talked out of’ launching strikes on Iran after a previous UN report showed a massive increase in nuclear stockpiles in breach of the Obama-era pact which Trump abandoned in 2018.
Defence sources told The New York Times that Trump asked for options on a bombardment – likely to have targeted Iran’s foremost nuclear facility, Natanz.
Last week’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed an interlinked cluster of IR-2ms had been moved underground into Natanz. But significantly, that report said no fuel had yet been added.
Israel and Syria, still technically at war, have a border along the Golan Heights, which the Jewish State has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967.
The air attacks have been seen as a signal that Israel will continue its aggressive policy of conducting strikes across the border despite key ally Trump’s election defeat this month.
While the US has enjoyed close ties with Israel since the state was formed in 1948, Trump had been particularly supportive, recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and adopting a hawkish approach towards Iran.
Analysts expect the relationship to cool somewhat under president-elect Joe Biden, who has said he will seek to rejoin the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The New York Times reported on Monday that Trump had last week discussed the possibility of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities but was reportedly ‘dissuaded’ by warnings such action could escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of his presidency.
In response, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei warned that ‘any action against the Iranian nation would certainly face a crushing response’.
The Pentagon’s strike plans against Iran are thought to include missile attacks, cyber-warfare, and pre-emptive action by Israel, which has previously carried out a series of operations against Iran.
Israel’s military action on Wednesday came just hours before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was due to land in Israel for talks in what is likely to be his last visit to the staunch American ally before Trump leaves office.
An Israeli army statement said its fighter jets had hit ‘military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian armed forces’ overnight on Tuesday and into the early hours of Wednesday.
The elite Quds Force is the main foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Western countries believe it is responsible for supporting Tehran’s allies in proxy conflicts throughout the Middle East.
The targets of the Israeli strike included ‘storage facilities, headquarters and military compounds’ as well as ‘Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries,’ the army statement said.
Syrian state news agency SANA said the strikes had killed three of its soldiers and wounded another.
The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 people had been killed, including foreign fighters as well as Syrian soldiers.
The foreigners included five fighters who were ‘likely Iranian and belonging to the Quds force’ as well as two pro-Iran fighters of undetermined nationality, the UK-based monitor said, adding that more casualties were likely.
Donald Trump reportedly asked advisers for a list of options on how to take action against Iran, which could include a missile strike, a cyber-attack or an operation involving Israel. But Iran warned today that any US action would be met with a ‘crushing’ response. Tehran previously fired missiles at US bases in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of general Qassem Soleimani in January, and Iran is also suspected of being behind cyber-attacks and mysterious explosions on Persian Gulf shipping
Pictured: Israeli army vehicles in the occupied Golan Heights on the border with Syria, shown during a drill on August 3
Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria since civil war broke out there in 2011, targeting Iranian and Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah forces as part of what has been described as a ‘shadow war’ to combat Iran’s influence in the Middle East.
Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes and the fact that it has done in this case suggests a clear intention to send a public message.
The country’s military said the attack was ‘retaliation’ after it had discovered improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on its side of the armistice line on the Golan Heights on Tuesday.
‘We are talking about three connected Claymore anti-personnel charges that were planted close to an IDF position,’ army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters on Wednesday.
‘This was another attempt led by Iranian Quds forces. The actual planting of the IEDs was by Syrian locals but the guidance, instruction and control was by Iranian Quds forces,’ he said.
Most Arab residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights retain Syrian citizenship, having spurned the offer of Israeli papers.
Conricus said Israel had carried out strikes against eight separate targets inside Syria, from the armistice line on the Golan all the way to the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus.
Wednesday’s strikes came just hours before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was due to arrive in Israel as part of a tour of the Middle East. It is expected to be his last visit to the country before President Donald Trump leaves office
He said they included three Iranian command centres – a headquarters in the Damascus airport, a Quds Force base in the headquarters of Syria’s seventh army division and a ‘secret military site which served as a hosting facility for senior Iranian delegations’.
A former Syrian military commander told Reuters news agency the attacks also targeted Hezbollah base in Syria close to the Lebanese border, alongside bases in the southern Damascus area and outposts in the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights where Hezbollah has a presence.
However, Conricus made no mention of Hezbollah.
‘We hope now that the message is clear – that it is unacceptable that the Syrian regime allows and tolerates and facilitates the use by Iranian forces of Syria as a launchpad for attacks against Israel,’ Conricus said.
Iran has been a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime throughout the civil war that erupted after the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
The ongoing conflict has killed more than 380,000 people. More than 5million Syrians have fled the country, while more still have been internally displaced – 6.6million according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
Iran has been a crucial ally for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his country’s ongoing civil war. Pictured: Al-Assad embraces Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a 2019 meeting in Tehran, Iran [File photo]
Wednesday’s air strikes came hours before Pompeo was due to land in Israel for talks on Iran that are expected to focus on Israeli fears of a softer policy towards its regional rival after the Trump administration hands over to Democrat Joe Biden in January.
Biden has made clear that he intends to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal, which was agreed in 2015 while he was serving as vice president under Barack Obama.
Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018, prompting a further souring of US-Iranian relations which have been dire since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 but experienced a relative detente under Obama.
For its part, Iran has said it will return to its commitments under the deal if Biden lifts crippling sanctions imposed since 2018.
It has been gradually suspending most of its key obligations since May 2019.
The return ‘can be done automatically and needs no conditions or even negotiations,’ Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in comments run by a state-run daily newspaper on Wednesday.
Zarif said the lifting of sanctions was more important to Iran that a US return to the deal, saying: ‘The first priority is America ending its law breaking and rebelling.’
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has said Iran could ‘automatically’ return to its commitments under the landmark 2015 nuclear deal if the US lifts sanctions imposed by Trump [File photo]
As a member of the United Nations Security Council, the US is obligated to implement Resolution 2231, which enshrined the nuclear deal.
‘If [the US] does carry out this resolution and sanctions are lifted and there are no obstacles to Iran’s economic activities, then Iran will carry out’ its obligations under the deal, Zarif said.
He added that Biden was a ‘foreign affairs veteran’ whom he has known for 30 years.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Trump his country’s strongest-ever ally in the White House, has heaped praised on the Trump administration for its hardline approach towards Iran.
Many analysts have suggested that he is likely to be concerned about the incoming Biden administration, which is also unlikely to support further land grabs as Trump had done.
Along with backing out of the nuclear deal, Trump’s so-called ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against the Islamic Republic included crippling sanctions on Iran.
Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdellatif al-Zayani was also due in Israel for the first visit on Wednesday.
It will be the first by a senior official official of the Gulf Arab state since it signed a normalisation deal with Israel on September 15.
The deal was condemned as a betrayal by Iran and its regional allies. Many Arab states officially refuse to engage with Israel until a two-state solution is reached with Palestine.
However, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan have also normalised relations with Israel this year.