The leader of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has promised a “crushing response” to any American military attacks in the Gulf after United States President Donald Trump threatened to “shoot down and destroy” Iranian vessels.
Iran officials on Thursday also accused Trump of “bullying” and said he should focus on caring for US service members infected with the coronavirus instead of making threats. Thousands of US service members have contracted the virus, including hundreds on a stricken aircraft carrier, docked in Guam, and at least two have died from COVID-19.
“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,” General Hossein Salami told national TV. “Security of the Persian Gulf is part of Iran’s strategic priorities.”
The US president’s tweet on Wednesday saying he had authorised the US Navy in the region to attack any Iranian fast boats that engaged American military assets came after an encounter last week between the two forces in the Gulf.
“US forces have no business 7,000 miles [12,500km] away from home, provoking our sailors off our OWN Persian Gulf shores,” wrote Iran’s Foreign Affairs Minister Javad Zarif on Twitter.
After Iran’s announcement of the launch of a military reconnaissance satellite on Wednesday, Trump wrote on Twitter, without citing any specific incident: “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”
General Abolfazl Shekarchi, a spokesman for Iran’s armed forces, called Trump “a bully” after issuing the threat.
At the Pentagon on Wednesday, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Hyten, welcomed Trump’s tweet as a useful warning to Iran. He drew a parallel between last week’s naval encounter in the Gulf and Wednesday’s space launch, which he said was “just another example of Iranian malign behaviour”.
“And it goes right along with the harassment from the fastboats … You put those two things together and it’s just more examples of Iranian malign behaviour and misbehaviour,” Hyten said.
Iran considers the heavy US military presence in the Middle East a threat to its security.
‘Right of self-defence’
Senior Pentagon officials gave no indication that Trump had directed a fundamental change in military policy on Iran.