On April 22nd, US President Donald Trump said that he had instructed the US Navy to shoot down any Iranian boats and ships that harass US warships.
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
In a clarification on what he meant, Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten said that, by now, the Navy commanders have learned the different in meaning Trump puts in his claims.
This was simply a threat to Iran, but not an actual order to carry out any attacks.
“If you come across and you are at a safe distance and you are waving, that’s one thing. If you have a gun and you point it at me, that’s another thing,” Hyten said. “We know what that line is and we will respond.”
“The president’s message was crystal clear,” he said.
David L. Norquist, the deputy defense secretary, said Trump’s statement on Twitter was more of a warning to the Iranians than a change to the current rules of engagement.
“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.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking at the State Department, dismissed the importance of Trump’s tweet about sinking Iranian fast boats for harassing U.S. naval ships, noting that the president had previously given senior American officials authority to “take whatever action is necessary to make sure you can defend and keep our people safe.”
An Iranian armed forces spokesman responded to the tweet by suggesting the U.S. government should focus on saving its service members from coronavirus.
“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.
Retired Vice Adm. John Miller, former commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, said the president’s tweet was likely designed to send a message to Iran and should not change existing rules of engagement for Navy ships defending themselves in the Gulf.
“Navy commanders are more than capable of understanding when the president says something, that’s meant for an outside audience as opposed to direction to them,” Miller told POLITICO. “It’s the president’s way, which isn’t always as smooth as we’d like it to be, of telling Iran, ‘Hey, stay away from our ships.”
Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the tweet likely does not change the rules of engagement because the Pentagon requires formal orders rather than “orders from Tweets.”
He said that the president is “trying to distract from Covid-19.”
The justification of Trump’s words is then: he’s just distracting people from coronavirus, “we know what to do, despite what he says” and that “it’s just a threat to Iran, not an order,” but what happens if a US Navy captain deems it an order and sinks an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) boat?
Does Tehran, then, just assume that it was all just an “honest mistake”, Trump wasn’t serious and that Navy captain should just be disowned and sent back home?
This isn’t the first time he’s made such claims, during his presidential campaign he said that if Iran harassed US warships, they would be “shot out of the water,” but nothing has come out of it.
This warning to Iranian conduct came just days after the IRGC successfully launched the first ever Iranian military satellite into orbit.
And according to the New York Times, both these things are evidence that the standoff between Washington and Iran is ramping up.
And according to the outlet, this isn’t so much owed to any specific action, but is used as a way to make people concentrate less on COVID-19, even though it appears to be much more under control in Iran, than in the US.
“At home, the Iranian government and Mr. Trump’s administration have been criticized for mismanaging the response to the virus, and leaders in both nations may calculate that there is an advantage to reigniting confrontations with old adversaries.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed the launch and noted that the government in Tehran had always claimed its satellite launches were only for commercial purposes and had no military use.
“I think today’s launch proves what we’ve been saying all along here in the United States,” Pompeo told reporters. “I think Iran needs to be held accountable for what it’s done.”
This was a warning, of sorts, because earlier Iran used fixed sites to launch its satellites and primarily failed, but now it used a mobile launcher and succeeded, “similar to what the North Koreans have increasingly used. The system reduces warning time, and thus makes it harder to pre-empt a launch.”
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- IRGC Declares That It’s Ready To ‘Target’ US Warships If They Threaten Iran In Persian Gulf
- Trump Ordered US Navy To Destroy Iranian Gunboats That Harras US Warships In Persian Gulf