President Trump said he authorized the US Navy to “destroy” any Iranian gunboats if they hound American vessels – as the Islamic Republic announced it successfully launched a military satellite into orbit.
“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” the president said in a tweet on Wednesday, without providing more details.
The post comes a week after 11 Iranian gunboats harassed US Navy and Coast Guard ships in the Persian Gulf.
The Navy called Iran’s maneuvers “dangerous and provocative.”
The boats, part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy, approached within 10 yards of the Coast Guard cutter Maui.
USS Paul Hamilton. a destroyer, and the USS Lewis B. Puller, an expeditionary mobile base vessel, were also targeted.
The US ships responded by sending warnings through bridge-to-bridge radio and blasting horns.
After an hour, the Iranian boats backed off and “opened distance between them.”
The US ships had been conducting military exercises in that section of the Persian Gulf.
Trump’s tweet on Wednesday came as Iran announced it had successfully launched its first military satellite into orbit.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran’s action was inconsistent with UN resolutions.
“I think every nation has an obligation to go to the United Nations and evaluate whether this missile launch was consistent with that Security Council resolution,” Pompeo said at a news conference.
“I don’t think it remotely is, and I think Iran needs to be held accountable for what they have done,” he added.
The US military warned that the type of long-range ballistic technology Iran used to put satellites in orbit could be used to launch long-range missiles – possibly with nuclear warheads.
“It went a very long way … which means, it has the ability, once again, to threaten their neighbors, our allies, and we want to make sure they can never threaten the United States,” U.S. Air Force General John Hyten told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
A spokesman for Iran’s armed forces, Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, said Trump is making an attempt at “bullying” and urged the US military to take care of its service members infected by the coronavirus.
Tensions have been on edge in the Persian Gulf region since Trump in 2018 pulled the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal former President Obama hammered out with the world powers.
The president also reinstated crippling sanctions against the country in an effort to force the Islamic Republic’s leaders back to the negotiating table to seek a more binding deal.
Tension spiked last year when Iran attacked a Saudi oil installation, shot down a US surveillance drone, and boarded several ships in international waterways in the Middle East.
In January, the US killed one of Iran’s top generals, Qassem Soleimani.