Iran lashed out at the U.S. with a new threat on Thursday after U.S. President Donald Trump instructed the U.S. Navy to shoot down Iranian gunboats threatening U.S. warships.
“I have ordered our naval forces to destroy any American terrorist force in the Persian Gulf that threatens security of Iran’s military or non-military ships,” Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Gen. Hossein Salami said on state television, as reported by Reuters.
“We have ordered our units at sea, if a vessel or combat unit of the terrorist U.S. Navy seeks to jeopardize the security of our civilian ships or combat vessels, that vessel or military unit must be targeted,” says #Iran‘s IRGC chief Hossein Salami. pic.twitter.com/0gAJI8DfOW
— Heshmat Alavi (@HeshmatAlavi) April 23, 2020
Salami added that Iran will ensure security in the Persian Gulf as one of its top priorities.
“I am telling the Americans that we are absolutely determined and serious in defending our national security, our water borders, our shipping safety, and our security forces, and we will respond decisively to any sabotage,” Salami continued.
“Americans have experienced our power in the past and must learn from it,” he added.
President Donald Trump had revealed in a tweet on Wednesday morning that he granted the U.S. Navy permission to shoot down Iranian gunboats who harass U.S. ships.
“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” Trump tweeted.
I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2020
Trump doubled down on his order during the White House coronavirus press briefing on Wednesday evening.
“We don’t want their gunboats around our boats,” Trump said. “We’re not going to stand for it.”
Trump said he would not allow Iran to continue to harass U.S. ships without repercussions, adding that the U.S. Navy will “shoot them out of the water.”
U.S. President Donald Trump on #Iran:
-We don’t want them anywhere near our ships & sailors.
-I don’t think I have to repeat myself.
-It was happening all the time during the Obama administration.
-We’re not going to stand for it.
-Our Navy will shoot them out of the water. pic.twitter.com/rKn6o3AXCD
— Heshmat Alavi (@HeshmatAlavi) April 23, 2020
In a Wednesday night interview with Fox News’ Martha McCallum, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he and Trump discussed the shootdown order together ahead of time.
“We are looking at making modifications to our practices to make sure the Iranians know to stay clear of our warships and our personnel,” he said. “We are not going to tolerate threatening behavior toward our warships.
“It’s unprofessional, it’s provocative, and it puts our warships and our sailors at risk,” Esper said of Iran’s recent harassment of U.S. ships. “They need to stay clear of United States warships wherever they may be operating.”
Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist also reaffirmed Trump’s message during a Pentagon press conference late Wednesday morning.
“All of our ships retain the right of self-defense and people need to be very careful in their interactions to understand the right of self-defense,” Norquist said.
Joint Staff Vice Chairman, Air Force Gen. John Hyten added, “Every capability that we deploy – every ship that deploys into harm’s way – has the inherent right of self-defense.”
“If we see a hostile act, if we see hostile intent, we have the right to respond up to and including lethal force. If it happens in the Gulf, if it happens in any way, we will respond with overwhelming lethal force if necessary to defend ourselves. It’s really that simple,” Hyten continued.
Hyten warned that no adversary should doubt the U.S. ability to respond to provocation at this time.
“I like that the president warned an adversary. That’s what he’s doing – he’s providing a warning,” said Hyten. “‘If you want to go down that path, we will come, and we will come large, so don’t go down that path.’ That is what he’s saying. He’s saying it in clear, certain terms. We understand that direction and every commander that’s deployed has the ability to execute that.”
“If you come across and you’re in a safe distance and you’re waving, that’s one thing. If you have a gun and you point it at me, that’s another thing. We know exactly what that means. If you cross that line – we know what that line is – and we will respond,” Hyten continued. “We don’t need any more direction in order to do that. I think the President’s message was crystal clear.”
Trump’s directive comes a week after 11 Iranian gunboats harassed six U.S. warships conducting joint operations in international waters of the Arabian Gulf.
USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), USS Firebolt (PC 10), USS Sirocco (PC 6), USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332) and USCGC Maui (WPB 1304) were conducting joint operations along with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache helicopters when the encounter occurred.
The Iranian vessels came within 10 yards of USCGC Maui’s bow, and 50 yards from USS Lewis B. Puller. U.S. ships were forced to take action to avoid colliding with Iranian boats.
U.S. crews issued radio warnings, five blasts from ships’ horns, and sounded acoustic noise makers, but were ignored by Iranian crews.
After an hour, Iranian crews finally responded and turned away from the U.S. warships.
“The IRGCN’s dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision, were not in accordance with the internationally recognized Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) ‘rules of the road’ or internationally recognized maritime customs, and were not in accordance with the obligation under international law to act with due regard for the safety of other vessels in the area,” U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement.
The Iranian military acknowledged the close encounter with the U.S. Navy, but claimed the U.S. gave a false account of the incident.
“We advise Americans to follow international regulations and maritime protocols in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman, and avoid any adventurism and false stories,” the IRGC said in a statement.
In an announcement appearing to be aimed at the U.S. Navy, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) paramilitary force said on Monday that it now has anti-ship missiles capable of reaching targets up to 430 miles away.