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Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a cabinet meeting. Photo: Abir Sultan/POOL/AFP via Getty

The Israel Defense Forces have in recent weeks been instructed to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. will conduct a military strike against Iran before President Trump leaves office, senior Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The Israeli government instructed the IDF to undertake the preparations not because of any intelligence or assessment that Trump will order such a strike, but because senior Israeli officials anticipate “a very sensitive period” ahead of Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.

  • The IDF's preparedness measures relate to possible Iranian retaliation against Israel directly or through Iranian proxies in Syria, Gaza and Lebanon, the Israeli officials said.

Flashback: Last week, the New York Times reported that Trump raised the possibility of attacking Iran’s uranium enrichment facility in Natanz in a meeting with senior members of his national security team.

  • Trump raised the idea after being briefed on an International Atomic Energy Agency report about Iran’s growing stockpiles of enriched uranium, but top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — warned about the risks of regional escalation, per the Times.
  • Trump seemed convinced that it would be too risky to strike Iran directly, but has considered other options, the Times reports.

What's happening: Israeli minister of defense Benny Gantz spoke twice in the last two weeks with Christopher Miller, Trump's acting defense secretary. They discussed Iran as well as Syria and defense cooperation.

  • Last Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. One of the main issues discussed was Iran, Israeli officials say.
  • Pompeo visited Israel and several Gulf countries last week to discuss Iran. State Department officials traveling with Pompeo told reporters “all options are on the table."
  • While Pompeo was in the Gulf, U.S. Central Command announced that B-52 strategic bombers conducted a “short-notice, long-range mission into the Middle East to deter aggression and reassure U.S. partners and allies." That was seen as another signal to Iran.
  • Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Iran’s leader and a possible candidate in Iran's upcoming presidential elections, told AP last week that a U.S. military strike against Iran could set off a “full-fledged war” in the Middle East.

What’s next: Senior Israeli officials tell me they expect Israel will get prior notice ahead of any U.S. strike against Iran. But they're concerned that won't be sufficient to fully prepare. Thus the order to the IDF to start taking preparatory steps under the assumption that such a scenario is possible.

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - World

Israel's chief epidemiologist creates diplomatic incident with UAE

Israeli travelers arrive in Dubai. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

A remark by Israel’s chief epidemiologist suggesting the opening of direct flights from Dubai to Tel Aviv had led to COVID-19 deaths in Israel resulted in diplomatic protests from the UAE, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Direct flights were one of the main fruits of the Israel-UAE peace treaty, and around 130,000 Israeli tourists have taken advantage by flying to Dubai since December.

Jan 28, 2021 - World

Biden turns the page on Trump's Israel-Palestine policies

Biden with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2010. Photo: David Furst/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration laid out its Israel-Palestine policy at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, highlighting the importance of repairing ties with the Palestinian Authority.

Driving the news: According to the new policies, the U.S. will resume aid to the Palestinians and reopen the PLO office in Washington and the consulate in Jerusalem.

States enter the unemployment fray

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A debate about whether generous unemployment cash is fueling a worker shortage is raging, with today's disappointing jobs report caught in the middle.

Why it matters: States blaming benefits for keeping would-be employees home are starting to implement policies to counteract the supposed effect.

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