“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” the president tweeted on Wednesday morning.
A week earlier, the US Navy accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of “dangerous and provocative”actions, claiming that nearly a dozen Iranian vessels buzzed a group of American ships in the Persian Gulf. The US Fifth Fleet later published video footage of the encounter, which showed the gunboats circling a larger US ship.
Tehran brushed off the accusations, disputing the "Hollywood" scenario portrayed by the US. The Iranian government considers US naval activity in the gulf highly provocative, and condemned the patrol as “adventurism.”
The US and Iran almost came to war at the beginning of the year, when the US assassinated General Qassem Soleimani with a drone strike at an airport in Baghdad, apparently in retribution for a series of Iranian-sponsored attacks on US bases in Iraq. However, tension in the Persian Gulf has been high since last summer, when the US and its Western allies blamed Iran for a series of sabotage attacks on oil infrastructure in the region.
US-led naval patrols were stepped up, and American troops and air defense systems were sent to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Based in nearby Bahrain, the US Fifth Fleet has been active in the gulf both before and since the flareup last year. The US insists patrols are essential to protect shipping routes against Iran’s “malign behavior.”
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