Trump Tells Navy to Destroy Any Iranian Gunboat Harassing It

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he’s ordered the U.S. Navy to destroy any Iranian gun boats that harass American ships at sea.

Trump issued the warning “to shoot down and destroy” the ships in a tweet sent from his iPhone Wednesday morning. It comes after 11 gunboats from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps crossed the bows and sterns of American ships at close range last week.

Trump’s comments mark another flare-up of tensions between the U.S. and Tehran. An Iranian defense official responded by saying the U.S. should withdraw its forces from the Middle East.

“Americans should do all they can to save their forces who have the coronavirus instead of bullying others,” Abolfazl Shekarchi, senior spokesman for Iran’s armed forces, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency.

Going back to the Obama administration, Revolutionary Guard members in small but agile speedboats have harassed U.S. ships, but the encounters usually have ended with warnings from the Americans to back off. In 2017, a U.S. Navy guided-missile naval destroyer fired warning shots at four Iranian rapid-attack craft in the Strait of Hormuz.

Pentagon officials endorsed Trump’s more aggressive approach in comments on Wednesday.

“I like that the president warned an adversary,” General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. He said the U.S. is ready to use “overwhelming lethal force” if appropriate.

Within 10 Yards

In the incident last week, the U.S. military vessels were conducting joint integration operations in international waters of the Persian Gulf when the Iranian ships harassed them, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

The Iranian ships came within a 50-yard point of approach with the USS Lewis B. Puller and within 10 yards of the bow of the Coast Guard cutter Maui, according to the statement. Iran has disrupted shipping routes in the Gulf and used asymmetrical warfare to undermine American interests across the Middle East, though rarely does it target U.S. ships directly.

The U.S. has imposed increasingly tough sanctions on Iran since Trump withdrew from a multinational accord aimed at limiting the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in 2018.

An Iranian surface-to-air missile system shot down a U.S. Navy surveillance drone last June while it was operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said the drone was over its territory. The attack escalated regional tensions.

Early this year, the U.S. killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. An Iranian counterattack on a U.S. base in Iraq didn’t kill anyone, but left American soldiers with head injuries, which Trump downplayed the severity of.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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