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Trump Authorizes Navy to Shoot Iranian Boats That Threaten US Ships

President Donald J. Trump signs an Executive Order in Bedminster, New Jersey, entitled “Reimposing Certain Sanctions with Respect to Iran.” (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
President Donald J. Trump signs an Executive Order on Iran Sanctions in the Green Room at Trump National Golf Club Sunday, August 5, 2018, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The coronavirus may have encouraged a break in usual diplomatic conflicts across the globe, but the US has maintained tension with Iran in the Persian Gulf.

‘Shoot Down and Destroy’

The coronavirus may have encouraged a break in usual diplomatic conflicts across the globe, but Iran and the US are returning to typical quarrels in the Persian Gulf. This time, however, US President Donald Trump gave the American Navy permission to “shoot and destroy” Iranian boats that pose a threat.

Last week, 11 Iranian fast boats “repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns” in “dangerous and harassing approaches” of US vessels, the Pentagon said. Six US Navy ships were on patrol when they were set upon, the New York Times reported.

“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 tweeted. He also replied to a video depicted an encounter between Iranian craft and a US Navy ship saying, “Sleepy Joe thought this was OK. Not Me!”

An official with the Department of Defense claimed no official policy had been issued by Trump beyond his tweet, but Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said Trump’s tweet was designed more as a warning than a policy change. 

“The president issued an important warning to the Iranians, what he was emphasizing is that all of our ships retain the right of self-defense,” Norquist said. “The president is describing and responding to poor behavior of the Iranians.”

Mixed Reactions

Some former American commanders questioned whether new policies from the president is even necessary.

“Commanders are well aware and already have sufficient guidance to deal with these types of events,” said Vice Adm. John W. Miller, retired commander of the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet. Normal protocols for such encounters include several rounds of warnings, both audible and visible, and defensive maneuvers. Shots across the bow of an opposing vessel is one of the final points of escalation before the Navy would resort to a direct attack.

However, current officials are backing the president and cheering his stance toward aggressive threats in the Persian Gulf, NPR reported.

“If we see a hostile act, if we see hostile intent, we have the right to respond up to and including lethal force, and if it happens in the Gulf, if it happens in any way, we will respond with overwhelming lethal force if necessary to defend ourselves,” said Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After a brief lull in activity off the Iranian coast following an active 2019, Tehran-backed actors have returned to terrorizing the Persian Gulf. On April 14, armed men boarded and temporarily seized a Hong Kong tanker near the Strait of Hormuz, the Charlotte Observer reported.

It is widely speculated that the armed men released the vessel after realizing it belonged to one of its only allies.

“At a time when China still buys Iranian oil, and Iran has few international friends, such a move would be highly irregular and would not further Iran’s interests,” Dryad Global said.

Tehran Shoots for the Stars

Trump’s warning to Iran came hours after Iran launched a military satellite, the first of its kind for Tehran. Although the satellite’s installation above Earth has yet to be confirmed, the Revolutionary Guard said it was launched from the state’s Central Desert, according to the New York Times.

“Today, the world’s powerful armies do not have a comprehensive defense plan without being in space, and achieving this superior technology that takes us into space and expands the realm of our abilities is a strategic achievement,” said Iranian Gen. Hossein Salami, the head of the Guards.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the satellite launch as a violation of a 2015 UN Security Council resolution, Reuters reported.

“I think every nation has an obligation to go to the United Nations and evaluate whether this missile launch was consistent with that Security Council resolution,” Pompeo said at a news conference. “I don’t think it remotely is, and I think Iran needs to be held accountable for what they have done.”

The resolution mandates Iran to halt work on ballistic missile technology required for nuclear weapons. Pompeo believes Iran used such technology to deliver the satellite payload to orbit. The concern in Washington is that if the ballistics are a new type, American intelligence may have an information gap. Furthermore, such missiles could be repurposed to launch offensive warheads at Iran’s adversaries, including US troops in the region.

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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