Iran Responds to Donald Trump's Navy Threat, Warns It Will 'Defend Its Territory'

Iran has responded to President Donald Trump's threats of naval action against Iranian vessels with a vow to defend the Islamic Republic's territory from adversarial forces.

"Iran has proven that it will not succumb to intimidation and threats, nor will it hesitate to defend its territory, in accordance with international law, from any and all aggressions," Iranian mission to the United Nations spokesperson Alireza Miryousefi told Newsweek.

Trump's threat came one week after armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard fast-attack craft engaged in what the U.S. Navy called "unsafe and professional actions" by approaching and circling warships of the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf. Trump announced Wednesday on Twitter 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."

The Iranian side, however, accused its U.S. rival of spinning "a Hollywood tale" of what went down, claiming the maneuvers were defensive in nature. Reacting to Trump's warning Wednesday, Miryousefi questioned the Pentagon's priorities, especially as both countries battled the same novel coronavirus disease.

"In the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic when all attentions worldwide is to combat this menace, the question is what the U.S. military is doing in Persian Gulf waters, 7000 miles from home," he said.

iran, navy, irgc, persian, gulf, encounter
Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy vessels conduct what the U.S. Navy described as "unsafe and unprofessional actions against U.S. Military ships by crossing the ships’ bows and sterns at close range while operating in international waters" of the Persian Gulf, a longtime flashpoint for tensions between Washington and Tehran, April 15. U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet

Other Iranian figures also called on the U.S. to focus its military efforts on battling COVID-19. "Instead of bullying others today, Americans must do their best to save those who are infected with the coronavirus," Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi told the Iranian Students' News Agency, while parliamentary National Security Committee member Alaeddin Boroujerdi told the outlet Trump "wants to divert public opinion from the internal crisis of the United States and the shortcomings in various fields."

Any new U.S. attack "would receive a greater response than Ayn al-Asad," Boroujerdi warned, referring to the U.S.-operated Iraqi base struck with a barrage of Iranian missiles in retaliation for the U.S. slaying of Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport in January.

Soleimani's death followed a series of escalations in both Iraq and the Persian Gulf that has come to define the U.S.-Iran feud since Trump's 2018 decision to exit a multilateral nuclear deal granting Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for severe restrictions on its nuclear program. The White House argued the deal did not go far enough to address Iran's support for partnered militias or its development of missiles and has rolled out intense sanctions against the Islamic Republic's economy.

What has followed is worsening unrest across the region, where international oil tankers have been targeted near the Persian Gulf and rockets fired in Iraq as part of a series of murky escalations threatening to bring the U.S. and Iran to the brink of an all-out conflict.

Amid these heightened tensions, the Pentagon—which has faced questions about its preparedness amid the coronavirus pandemic—too responded to Trump's tweet Wednesday.

"Every capability we deploy, every ship that deploys in harm's way has the inherent right of self-defense," Vice Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Air Force General John E. Hyten told reporters Wednesday. "What that means is we see a hostile act, if we see hostile intent, we have the right to respond up to and including lethal force."

"I liked that the president warned an adversary, that's what he's doing, he's providing a warning," Hyten added. "If you wanna go down that path, we will come and we will come large, so don't go down that path, that's what he is saying, he's saying it in clear, uncertain terms. We understand that direction and every commander that is deployed has the ability to execute that."

Earlier that same day, the Revolutionary Guard launched Iran's first-ever military satellite, Noor, in a move that commander Major General Hossein Salami said would now allow his forces to "see the world from space." Washington has condemned Tehran's space launch vehicle program as a part of its missile program.

In the days since the tense encounter last week between two navies that consider the other to be terrorist organizations, Iranian maritime military leaders have touted advances to their fleets. including Revolutionary Guard Navy commander Rear Admiral said his forces extended their anti-ship missile range to more than 430 miles and had vessels capable of traveling up to three times those possessed by the U.S.

"Wherever the Americans have been present, insecurity has arisen, and we do not know where the presence of the United States has led to security," Tangsiri said at the time.