President Trump met with senior cabinet members last week in the Oval Office to discuss options to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in the next few weeks. 

This discussion happened just one day after the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran’s uranium stockpile at its facility in Natanz was 12 times higher than allowed under the now-scrapped Iran nuclear deal. The international nuclear watchdog also reported that Iran did not allow inspectors to enter a location where there was evidence of past nuclear activity.

However, the president’s advisors, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller, and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities could easily escalate into a broader conflict.

It is now believed that any kind of missile strike is off the table, officials told The New York Times

The president, however, may still be looking at ways to strike Iranian assets and their proxy militias in Iraq, officials added. 

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that he wasn’t aware of any meeting in Washington over attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but Iran should be wary. 

“It is very important that the Iranians know that if, indeed, they suddenly dash toward high levels of enrichment, in the direction of nuclear weaponry, they are liable to encounter the military might of the United States — and also, perhaps, of other countries,” Steinitz said in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio.

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Iran
A satellite image of the Natanz facility, where the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran’s uranium stockpile was now 12 times larger than permitted under the nuclear accord that Mr. Trump abandoned in 2018. Credit: Maxar Technologies/Reuters

The International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded that Iran now has a stockpile of more than 2,442 kilograms (5,385 pounds) of low-enriched uranium. This is enough to produce about two nuclear weapons. The findings were confirmed by an analysis of the report by the Institute for Science and International Security. 

Iran would still require several months of additional processing to enrich the uranium to bomb-grade material. This means that Iran could have a nuclear weapon by late spring.

The Iranians shipped most of their nuclear stockpile to Russia after the Iran nuclear deal had been reached with the Obama administration.

Iran has frequently denied that it is after nuclear weapons. However, a few years ago, an Israeli intelligence coup on Iran’s nuclear data clearly showed that Iran has been planning on building nuclear weapons since at least 2003. 

The Tehran government struck a familiar bellicose tone when the news of Trump’s meeting with his cabinet broke out. “Any action against the Iranian nation would certainly face a crushing response,” Iranian spokesman Ali Rabiei said in remarks streamed on an official government website.

Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York, said that Iran’s nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes and civilian use and Trump’s policies have not changed that. “However, Iran has proven to be capable of using its legitimate military might to prevent or respond to any melancholy adventure from any aggressor,” he added.

Any kind of kinetic or cyberattack against either Iranian nuclear facilities or Iranian proxy militias in Iraq would likely draw the U.S. into a broader Middle East conflict, something President Trump has sought to avoid. Instead, he’s been actively trying to get the United States out of what he characterizes as “endless wars” and is thought to have ordered more troops home from the Middle East by Christmas. 

Furthermore, action against Iran would make things trickier for the incoming Biden administration. Biden has made it clear that he’ll try to re-institute the Iran nuclear deal. The chances of rekindling it are already slim. And a U.S. attack of any kind against Iran would make these discussions even more difficult. 

Likewise, a strike against the Iranian-proxy militias in Iraq would put the Biden team in a bad situation. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is already walking a tightrope trying to lessen the Iranian influence in his country while keeping his government from crumbling. Despite that, the Iranian-led militias have conducted dozens of attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq.

Earlier this summer, the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz had been the site of a fire that many believe was the work of a cyber attack.