U.S. President Donald Trump says he has ordered the Navy to attack and destroy any Iranian vessel that harasses U.S. ships after Iranian ships appeared to harass U.S. vessels last week in the Persian Gulf.
“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 said in a tweet posted on April 22.
The order comes a week after a U.S. Navy video showed small Iranian gunboats coming close to U.S. warships as they operated in the northern Persian Gulf near Kuwait.
The U.S. Navy said its ships were in international waters carrying out exercises at the time of the incidents on April 15. It said 11 vessels of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) made “dangerous and harassing approaches” toward the U.S. ships.
Trump did not cite a specific event or provide any further details in his tweet.
When asked about Trump’s tweet during a press conference, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist said: "The president issued an important warning to the Iranians. What he was emphasizing is all of our ships retain the right of self-defense.”
Air Force General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during the same briefing that “the commanders have the authority right now to respond to any hostile act or hostile intent."
A spokesman for Iran's military said in response that the United States should “focus on saving its armed forces from the coronavirus,” according to the semiofficial news agency ISNA.
After last week's incident the IRGC accused the United States of giving a false account of the encounter, issuing a statement accusing the U.S. Navy of "unprofessional and provocative behavior" and warning the Americans that any "miscalculation will receive a decisive response."
Close interactions with Iranian military vessels have occurred in the region in the past, drawing warning shots from U.S. Navy ships when Iranian vessels venture too close.
Tensions between Iran and the United States increased in January after the United States killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Iraq.