Iranian commander promises to sink US Navy ships if provoked

The latest rise of tensions comes after Iranian naval gunboats harassed American Navy warships in the Persian Gulf last week.

By Associated Press

The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) warned on Thursday that he has ordered his forces to target the U.S. Navy if threatened after President Donald Trump’s tweet the previous day threatening to sink Iranian vessels.

“I have ordered our naval forces to destroy any American terrorist force in the Persian Gulf that threatens the security of Iran’s military or non-military ships,” IRGC General Hossein Salami told state television, adding, “Security of the Persian Gulf is part of Iran’s strategic 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,” he said.

The latest rise of tensions comes after the U.S. Navy said last week that 11 Iranian naval gunboats had carried out “dangerous and harassing approaches” to American Navy and Coast Guard vessels in the Persian Gulf. The Americans said they used a variety of nonlethal means to warn off the Iranian boats, which eventually left. Iran, meanwhile, accused the U.S. of sparking the incident, without offering evidence for the claim.

Iran has had tense encounters at sea for years with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of all oil passes. The U.S. has patrolled the area to protect global shipping for decades, something Iran describes as akin to it patrolling the Gulf of Mexico.

Trump on Wednesday, facing a collapsing global energy market and the coronavirus pandemic amid his re-election campaign, tweeted out a warning to Iran, saying that he ordered the Navy to “shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”

“We don’t want their gunboats surrounding our boats, and traveling around our boats and having a good time,” Trump told reporters Wednesday evening at the White House. “We’re not going to stand for it. … They’ll shoot them out of the water.”

Iran has also begun pushing back against the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy both militarily and diplomatically. The Guard on Wednesday launched Iran’s first military satellite, unveiling a previously secret space program.