The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Thursday that Iran will destroy U.S. warships that threaten Iranian security in the Persian Gulf, a day after President Trump issued a similar threat regarding Iranian ships that “harass” U.S. vessels.
“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,” Major General Hossein Salami told state TV. “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,” the commander-in-chief added. “Americans have experienced our power in the past and must learn from it.”
A day earlier, on Wednesday, Trump wrote in a tweet that he has “instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”
Pentagon officials later said that they would apply the president’s order although it did not indicate a change in the rules of engagement.
The U.S. military said last week that eleven Iranian Revolutionary Guard ships made multiple “dangerous and harassing approaches” at U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships in the Gulf area.
Tensions have run high between Tehran and the U.S. since May, 2018, when Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal, which was also signed by the U.K., France, Germany, China, and Russia. The nuclear agreement gave Iran billions of dollars in relief from sanctions in exchange for a promise to curb its nuclear program.
Relations reached a fever pitch in early January, when Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad. The attack sparked immediate international worries about how Iran would retaliate.
U.S. officials said they believed Soleimani had been plotting “imminent attacks” on U.S. facilities in the surrounding region that could have killed hundreds of Americans, though multiple reports citing senior diplomatic and military officials have contradicted the claim that an imminent threat had emerged in the days before the airstrike.