President Donald Trump, on Wednesday said he had directed the U.S. Navy to “shoot down and destroy” Iranian gunboats that “harass our ships at sea”.
Trump said this in a Twitter post, a week after a reported confrontation between Iranian and American vessels in the Persian Gulf.
On April 15, the U.S. Navy accused Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC, of “dangerous and provocative actions” against six of its ships.
The navy said the vessels were taking part in a military exercise with U.S. Army Apache attack helicopters in international waters at the time.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet later released a video footage of the encounter, which showed the gunboats circling a bigger U.S. ship.
But the IRGC dismissed the accusation as a “Hollywood version” of the incident, which it said was provoked by the U.S.
In a statement, the corps stated that U.S. forces started it by blocking one of its ships in two separate incidents in early April.
The IRGC said it had to increase patrol in the Gulf after the U.S. Navy exhibited “dangerous behaviour while ignoring warnings”, adding that it would respond “decisively” to any act of provocation.
It published its own video of the encounter which showed the IRGC vessels loitering around the American boats for an hour, before leaving.
Reports say the April 15 incident came after suspected armed IRGC operatives seized a Hong Kong-flagged tanker in the Gulf of Oman, redirected it onto Iranian waters, and the released it.
Both countries came close to a war in January after the U.S. killed a top Iranian General, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq.
Trump had accused Soleimani of spearheading a series of Iranian-sponsored attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq.
But tensions had been high in the Persian Gulf since last summer when the U.S. and its western allies blamed Iran for a series of sabotage attacks on oil assets in the region.
Consequently, U.S.-led naval patrols were intensified, and American troops and air defense systems were sent to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.