US President Donald Trump had considered a possible military strike on Iran's main nuclear site in the final weeks of his presidency, according to the New York Times, but senior advisers in his administration dissuaded him from going ahead with the plan over fears that it would escalate into a broader conflict.
Trump is said to have asked his most senior advisers during a meeting last Thursday in the Oval Office over the possibility of a military strike following a report that there had been significant increase in Iran's stockpile of nuclear material.
A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has conclude that Iran has exceeded limits agreed in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In 2018 Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal but the US President has continued to insist on the right to police enforcement of the pact.
Trump asked his top national security aides what options were available and how to respond. A range of senior advisers including Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo apparently dissuaded the president from authorising a military strike, warning that targeting Iran's facilities could easily escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of his presidency.
Nonetheless there are concerns that Trump may escalate tensions with the Islamic Republic with encouragement from Israel. National security officials are said to have privately expressed their anxiety that the president may initiate operations, whether overt or secret, against Iran or other adversaries at the end of his term.
The Times pointed out that such a move is not unprecedented, and that the US has in the past made last minute deals with Israel during a change in administration. It cited the last days of the Bush administration in 2008, when Israeli officials, concerned that the incoming Obama administration would seek to block it from striking Iran's nuclear facilities, sought bunker-busting bombs, bombers and intelligence assistance from the United States for an Israeli-led strike.
Vice President Dick Cheney later wrote in his memoir that he supported the idea. President Bush however did not, but the result was a far closer collaboration with Israel on a cyberstrike against the Natanz facility, which took out about 1,000 of Iran's nuclear centrifuges.
Iran reacted to the news warning of a "crushing response" if Trump targeted its nuclear site. "Any action against the Iranian nation would certainly face a crushing response," said Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei in remarks streamed on a government website.
The news of a possible military strike comes as the Trump administration plans to "flood" Iran with sanctions, in a move that is considered to be a way for Trump to make it impossible for President-elect Joe Biden to revive the 2015 nuclear deal once he moves into the White House in January.