US forces in the Persian Gulf have been authorized to open fire on Iranian ships if they ‘harass’ them at sea, President Donald Trump said, as tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We’re not going to stand for it. If they do that, that’s putting our ships in danger and our great crews and sailors in danger – I’m not going to let that happen. And we will – they’ll shoot them out of the water,” Trump said on Wednesday during the daily White House press conference normally dedicated to the pandemic response. He would not say if that meant a change to the rules of engagement (ROE) currently in effect.
Trump accused the Iranian Navy of once again harassing the US naval forces currently deployed in the Persian Gulf, saying there had been an incident on Tuesday in addition to the Pentagon’s claims from last week.
That provided some context for his tweet earlier in the day, threatening to “shoot down and destroy” Iranian boats, but resulted in plenty of confusion about the rules under which US warships would be allowed to open fire.
Last Wednesday, the Pentagon claimed that 11 boats of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) “repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches” of six US ships as they conducted drills with army attack helicopters “in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf” (the US name for that body of water).
The boats came within 50 yards (45 meters) of the expeditionary vessel USS ‘Lewis B. Puller,’ and within 10 yards (nine meters) of the Coast Guard cutter USCGC ‘Maui,’ the US Department of Defense said.
Tehran denounced the US claim as “false and fake stories” and released its own video of the incident, accusing the US Navy of “adventurism” and failure to follow international law and maritime protocols regulating navigation in the Persian Gulf.