Trump tells Navy to destroy Iranian gunboats if they ‘harass’ American ships

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had instructed the U.S. Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass it at sea, but said later he was not changing the military’s rules of engagement.

Close interactions with Iranian military vessels were not uncommon in 2016 and 2017. On several occasions, U.S. Navy ships fired warning shots at Iranian vessels when they got too close.

“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” Trump wrote in a tweet, hours after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said it had launched the country’s first military satellite into orbit.

While the Navy has the authority to act in self-defense, Trump’s comments appeared to go further and were likely to stoke tensions between Iran and the United States.

In a briefing at the White House later on Wednesday, Trump said the military would not be changing its rules of engagement.

“We’re covered, we’re covered 100 percent,” Trump said

Senior Pentagon officials said that Trump’s comments on Iran were meant as a warning to Tehran, but suggested that the U.S. military would continue to abide by its existing right to self-defense instead of any changes to its rules.

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

The United States should focus on saving its military from the coronavirus, an Iranian armed forces spokesman said on Wednesday.