Iran Vows to Destroy Any Threatening U.S. Forces in the Persian Gulf Following Trump Threat

The commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has warned that his forces will respond to any perceived threat in the Persian Gulf, after President Donald Trump ordered U.S. forces to sink Iranian vessels harassing American ships.

Hossein Salami, the IRGC commander-in-chief, said Thursday he had ordered his forces in the Gulf to destroy any vessel or combat unit that threatened the safety of Iranian ships, according to the Iranian Young Journalists Club news agency. Salami specifically referred to "any American terrorist force" posing a threat.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has overshadowed continued tensions between the U.S. and Iran in recent months, but the animosity between Washington and Tehran has resurfaced in recent days.

Last week, as many as 11 fast-attack IRGC ships encircled a group of U.S. warships in the Gulf. The U.S. Fifth Fleet said the move was "unsafe and unprofessional," while the IRGC said the American ships were engaged in "illegal, unprofessional, dangerous and even adventurist behavior" in the area.

Then on Wednesday, Iran successfully launched a military satellite into orbit for the first time. The successful launch could have implications for the country's intercontinental ballistic missile program, which is one of the grievances that prompted Trump to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018. Iran has denied that the satellite launch is connected to its ICBM program.

Hours after the launch, Trump said he had ordered military units in the Gulf region to respond aggressively to any perceived Iranian threat. "I have instructed the United States Navy to if they harass our ships at sea," Trump tweeted.

The U.S. Navy was already permitted to fire on aggressors in self-defense, though Trump's tweet was interpreted as encouraging a more aggressive stance. The president clarified at a press conference later in the day that the military would not be changing its rules of engagement, telling reporters, "We're covered, we're covered 100 percent."

Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist told reporters: "The president issued an important warning to the Iranians, what he was emphasizing is all of our ships retain the right of self-defense."

Iran was quick to dismiss the threat. Iranian Mission to the United Nations spokesperson Alireza Miryousefi told Newsweek: "In the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic when all attention worldwide is to combat this menace, the question is what the U.S. military is doing in Persian Gulf waters, 7000 miles from home."

Parliamentary National Security Committee member Alaeddin Boroujerdi, meanwhile, told the Iranian Students' News Agency that Trump "wants to divert public opinion from the internal crisis of the United States and the shortcomings in various fields."

Hossein Salami, Iran, Persian Gulf, US, ships
This file photo shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami during a pro-government rally in the capital Tehran's central Enghelab Square on November 25, 2019. ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty