President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that he has told the U.S. Navy to shoot down any Iranian ships that are harassing American ships. The tweet appears to be a reaction to an incident last week in which 11 Iranian ships encroached on U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels operating in the Persian Gulf.
I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2020
The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) did acknowledge the incident with U.S. ships, but blamed American forces for provoking it, according to The Hill.
A video of the incident showed that the U.S. military ships sounded repeated warnings to the Iranian vessels, which did back off after about an hour.
A warning to Iran
Pentagon officials characterized Trump’s tweet as a warning to Iran rather than a new order to the military.
“The president issued an important warning to the Iranians,” Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said at a briefing, the Hill reported. “What he was emphasizing was all of our ships retain the right of self-defense, and people need to be very careful in their interactions to understand the inherent right of self-defense.”
“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,” vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten said.
Politico reported that an Iranian military spokesman responded to the tweet, saying that Trump should worry more about soldiers infected with coronavirus than about Iran’s ships.
“Today, instead of bullying others, the Americans should put all their efforts toward saving those members of their forces who are infected with coronavirus,” Abolfazl Shekarchi said.
U.S. relations with Iran had been calm since earlier in the year when an American drone strike took out top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iran retaliated by destroying a few U.S. military buildings in Iraq.
Oil prices tick upward after tweet
An unintended but welcome consequence of Trump’s tweet is that sagging oil prices surged upward at the thought of more tension between the two countries, according to The Street.
Crude futures for June jumped $2.17 a gallon to $21.50 a barrel after trading earlier in the week at $15.98 a barrel — the lowest since 1999 — because of low demand during worldwide coronavirus travel restrictions and an ill-timed attempt by Saudi Arabia and Russia to flood the market in March.