Trump Threatens to Shoot Iranian Gunboats

On April 22, President Donald Trump threatened to take military action against Iran after recent tensions between U.S. and Iranian naval vessels in the Persian Gulf. 

On April 15, the United States accused Iranian military vessels of conducting “dangerous and harassing” maneuvers close to U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships in the Persian Gulf. A group of 11 speedboats belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Navy (IRGCN) repeatedly approached six U.S. military vessels at close range and at high speeds, coming within 10 yards of one ship, the Pentagon said. The U.S. warships were conducting joint training operations with U.S. Army helicopters in international waters. The United States issued several warnings, including bridge-to-bridge radio communications, blasts from the ships’ horns, and soundwaves from long-range acoustic devices. The Iranian vessels left after an hour.

The United States condemned Iran’s behavior. “The IRGCN’s dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision ... and were not in accordance with the obligation under international law to act with due regard for the safety of other vessels in the area,” the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, said in a statement. On April 16, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States was “evaluating how best to respond and how best to communicate our displeasure with what took place.”

On April 16, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reposted a tweet from 2018 in which he had said that the “U.S. Navy can’t seem to find its way around our waters…maybe it doesn’t know what it’s doing in our backyard, 7,000 miles from home.” He captioned the old message with “yearly reminder.”

On April 20, Iran accused the United States of interfering with routine IRGC naval patrols in the Persian Gulf. “As far as we know, American troops had kept our forces from conducting ordinary and legal patrols in the region, which prompted our patrol troops to react and give them the necessary warnings,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a press conference.


Iran Launches Satellite into Orbit

On April 22, the IRGC announced that it had launched the country's first military satellite into orbit. The "Noor" satellite was launched from Iran's central Dasht-e Kavir desert using a "three-stage Qased satellite launcher" and "a combination of solid and liquid fuels,” according to state media. It was the first time Iran had used the advanced Qased launch system. "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 IRGC Commander Hossein Salami.

Qased launch

U.S. officials condemned the launch. "Iran needs to be held accountable for what it’s done," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on April 22. "They’ve now had a military organization that the United States has designated terrorists attempt to launch a satellite," he added. The United States has long been concerned that space launch technology could be used to produce an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). But "no country has developed an ICBM from its space launch technology base; space launch programs have generally developed from military ballistic missile programs," according to the Congressional Research Service.

Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said that the launch was "further evidence of Iran’s behavior that is threatening in the region." But General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that it was too early to tell whether Iran was able to put the satellite into orbit. The following is a timeline of U.S.-Iran tensions since January.



Feb. 9:  Iran announced that it had failed to put a Zafar 1 communications satellite into orbit ahead of celebrations for the 41st anniversary of the Islamic revolution on February 11. “Stage-1 and stage-2 motors of the carrier functioned properly and the satellite was successfully detached from its carrier, but at the end of its path it did not reach the required speed for being put in the orbit,” said Defense Ministry space program spokesman Ahmad Hosseini. 

Mar. 27:  Two Iranian vessels with raised ladders approached a U.S.-flagged container ship, according to Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm. The container ship reportedly deviated its course and the Iranian skiffs left.

Apr. 2: Iranian speedboats aggressively maneuvered toward an unidentified ship in the Persian Gulf, according to Dryad Global.

Apr. 4: The IRGC deployed Fajr-5 missile batteries on Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz. The rockets could hit targets up to 45 miles away. Mobile anti-ship missile launchers were also installed on the island.

Apr. 14: The IRGC seized a Hong Kong-flagged tanker and redirected the vessel toward Iranian waters. The tanker was reportedly inspected on suspicion of smuggling before it was released.

Apr. 15: The United States accused Iranian vessels of harassing U.S. naval ships in the Persian Gulf. Eleven IRGC speedboats reportedly made dangerous and provocative maneuvers near the warships while they were performed training exercises in international waters. 

Apr. 19: The IRGC acknowledged the incident but claimed that U.S. forces had violated international maritime laws. “They should be assured that the Revolutionary Guards navy and the powerful armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran sees the dangerous actions of foreigners in the region as a threat to national security and its red line and any error in calculation on their part will receive a decisive response,” the IRGC warned in a statement.

Apr. 22: President Trump threatened to take military action against Iran if it were to provoke U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf again. "I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea," he tweeted.

At a press briefing a few hours later, Pentagon officials described Trump's message as a warning rather than a change in policy. "What he was emphasizing is 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," said Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist.

In response, Alireza Miyousefi, the spokesman for Iran's U.N. mission, warned that Iran would not hesitate to defend its territory. "In the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic when all attentions worldwide is to combat this menace, the question is what the U.S. military is doing in Persian Gulf waters, 7000 miles from home," he said.

Iran announced that it had successfully put a military satellite into orbit for the first time. The IRGC reportedly used a new, more advanced satellite launcher, called "Qased," which was propelled by a combination of solid and liquid fuels. 


At a press briefing, Secretary Pompeo said Iran’s satellite launch was inconsistent with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Iran not to undertake activities related to the ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. “They’ve now had a military organization (the IRGC) that the United States has designated terrorists attempt to launch a satellite,” he said.

The State Department also released a fact sheet outlining Iran's naval provocations since 2015. "Iran has long used its naval forces to terrorize the international maritime community – this is not a new phenomenon," it said. "President Trump will not tolerate or appease Iran’s foreign policy of violence and intimidation."

President Trump, when asked about his threat to take action against Iran, said he was not going to change the military’s rule of engagement. “No, that’s not rules of engagement; that’s a threat when they get that close to our boat.  And they have guns. They have very substantial weapons on those boats. But we'll shoot them out of the water,” Trump said at a White House press briefing. He was also asked if he saw Iran’s satellite launch as an advancement of its missile program. Trump did not answer the question directly. “We watched it; we knew it was going up. We followed it very closely. They say it was for television,” he said.

Abolfazl Shekarchi, spokesman for Iran's armed forces, said that Washington should focus on resolving the "major crisis" in the United States instead of threatening Iran. "Today, instead of intimidating others, the Americans would do better to save their troops infected by the coronavirus," said Abolfazl Shekarchi, spokesman for Iran's armed forces.

Apr. 23: The IRGC's commander, General Hossein Salami, warned that his forces could target U.S. vessels. “We have ordered our naval units at sea that if any warships or military units from the naval force of America’s terrorist army wants to jeopardize our commercial vessels or our combat vessels, they must target those warships or naval units,” Salami said.

Foreign Minister Zarif said that President Trump should attend to the needs of infected U.S. service members. He added that "U.S. forces have no business 7,000 miles away from home."


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

April 22, at a press briefing

As for Iran, you noted the launch last night.  The Iranians have consistently said that these missile programs were disconnected from their military, that these were purely commercial enterprises.  I think today’s launch proves what we’ve been saying all along here in the United States:  The IRGC, a designated terrorist organization, launched a missile today.  And I’ll leave to the Department of Defense to talk about the details about that.  But when you talk about the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, 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.  I don’t think it remotely is, and I need – I think Iran needs to be held accountable for what they’ve done.  They’ve now had a military organization that the United States has designated terrorists attempt to launch a satellite. 

You talked about the naval ships.  You saw the President’s statement this morning.  The President’s been very clear to the Department of Defense and frankly to the State Department team too to do everything we need to do to make sure that we protect and defend our officers, our military officers, our diplomats around the world, to continue to ensure that they are secure and safe.  What he said this morning and what I know he’s told all of us in leadership inside the government is take whatever action is necessary to make sure that you can defend and keep our people safe.  I’m confident that the Department of Defense will do that in response to what the President said this morning as well.

And then finally, you talked more broadly about deterrence.  Two thoughts.  First:  The Iranian regime has gone around the world spreading disinformation in response to this virus.  One of the things they’ve said is that, boy, we need resources in order to take care of the virus at home.  And all the while they are launching satellites, driving ships around the Arabian Gulf, coming and harassing U.S. naval vessels.  They continue to underwrite Shia militias, they’re working to support Hizballah.  Yesterday my Iranian counterpart – or the day before – was in Syria talking to the butcher in Damascus. 

I hope that the Iranian regime will respond to the Iranian people’s demands to prioritize resources, resources that the Iranian regime clearly has, to the health and security and safety of the Iranian people, rather than continuing their global terror campaign.  You can see they’re still hard at it.  You can see they still have resources.  You should note, we, the – at the very first news that the COVID virus had hit Iran, offered humanitarian assistance to the people of Iran.  That offer was rejected.  That offer still stands.  We’ve assisted other countries in delivering humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people.  I only wish that the Iranian regime cared about its people as much as the rest of the world has demonstrated that it does.


State Department

FACT SHEET April 22, 2020


“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”
-President Donald J. Trump, Twitter, April 22, 2020

Iran has long used its naval forces to terrorize the international maritime community – this is not a new phenomenon. In 2015, during negotiations of the Iran Deal and after its adoption, the U.S. Navy recorded 22 incidents of unsafe and unprofessional conduct by the IRGC Navy (IRGCN), many that risked collision. An additional 36 incidents of unsafe and unprofessional conduct were recorded in 2016. 

This includes the January 2016 incident where IRGC naval forces seized two U.S. Navy riverine boats and detained ten U.S. sailors for a period of 15 hours, violating their rights under the Geneva Convention by parading them in front of their propaganda cameras.

When President Trump took office, he initiated a comprehensive review of the United States’ Iran policy in light of the Iran Deal’s failure to address the regime’s growing threats to international peace and security. During this review period, Iran continued its dangerous naval activity.  

•    In March 2017, the USNS Invincible was forced to change course to avoid collision with multiple approaching IRGCN fast-attack small crafts.
•    In July 2017, an IRGCN vessel came within 150 yards of the USS Thunderbolt in the Persian Gulf, forcing it to fire warning shots.
•    In August 2017, an unarmed Iranian drone flew close to the USS Nimitz as fighter jets landed at night, threatening the safety of the American pilots and crew.

In October 2017, President Trump announced a new Iran policy that made clear the United States would not tolerate the status quo from Iran, nor appease their provocations. Following the President’s announcement, incidents of IRGC naval harassment sharply declined and remained depressed even after the United States withdrew from the JCPOA. 

In May 2019, Iran began a panicked campaign of aggression to extort the world into granting it sanctions relief. 

•    On May 12, 2019, IRGC naval personnel placed and detonated limpet mines on two Saudi, one UAE, and one Norwegian-registered ships while they were harbored in UAE territorial waters near Fujairah Port.
•    On June 13, 2019, IRGC naval personnel placed and detonated limpet mines on one Japanese ship and one Norwegian owned ship while they transited the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. later released a video showing IRGC naval personnel removing one of their limpet mines off the side of the Japanese tanker.
•    On June 19, 2019, IRGC personnel deployed a surface-to-air missile to shoot down a U.S. unmanned aircraft operating over international waters in the Strait of Hormuz.  IRGC Commander Hossein Salami announced that Iran had shot down the drone, claiming that it was operating within Iran’s territorial waters.
•    On July 19, 2019, the IRGC Navy seized the British-flagged, Swedish-owned Stena Impero tanker while it was transiting the Strait of Hormuz. On the same day, the IRGC also temporarily detained the Liberian-flagged Mesdar tanker. The Stena Impero and her crew were detained in Iran for more than two months as negotiating leverage.

At the same time the Iranian regime is seeking sanctions relief, it focuses its resources and efforts to harass the international maritime community.

•    On April 14, 2020, the IRGC Navy forcibly boarded and detained the Hong Kong-flagged SC Taipei oil tanker in international waters, and sailed the tanker into Iranian waters. 
•    On April 15, 2020, eleven IRGC Navy small boats disrupted five U.S. naval vessels conducting a routine exercise by repeatedly engaging in high speed, harassing approaches. The Iranian vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. ships coming as close as to within 10 yards of a US Coast Guard Cutter.

In response to the elevated risk posed to commercial vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz, the United States spearheaded the creation of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC), a coalition of eight European, Middle Eastern, and Asian nations committed to ensuring freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce through the strait. Since the IMSC was stood up in August 2019, Iranian mine attacks have ceased. 

President Trump will not tolerate or appease Iran’s foreign policy of violence and intimidation. Iran must act like every other normal nation, not a nation that sponsors piracy and terror.

Photo Credits: All Content by Mehr News Agency is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Some of the information in this article was originally published on April 16, 2020.